Safe Spaces: Coddling or Confidence Building?

Izzy Oberman

On the brink of adulthood, college students are exposed to new environments and beliefs, often different than anything they have experienced before. Historically, colleges and universities are places where students are introduced to new types of people and ideas, but in recent years some have claimed that intrusions on free speech on college campuses have limited the sharing of these ideas. Many people, across all aisles, have conflicting views on if colleges have become too cautious about being “politically correct.” This has put colleges reputation for being a place for new opinions and self discovery in jeopardy because of campuses seemingly trying to protect certain views over others.

Today, campus culture is shifting its focus from valuing the sharing of ideas no matter the cost to creating safe spaces for people to use their voices in a more tolerant environment. Safe spaces are places where minorities or like minded people can gather to be surrounded by others with whom they share commonalities, or feel “safe” around. Many think that safe spaces promote intolerance of different opinions, but what these people fail to take into account is that just because people share an identifying trait does not mean they agree on everything.

Morton Schapiro is a professor of economics, and the current president at Northwestern University. Schapiro is infamously known as the “King of Snowflakes,” perceived as someone who preserves the entitlement and coddling of the current college-aged generation. As a result of this perception, Schapiro receives backlash on a daily basis. In 2017, Schapiro wrote an article for the Chicago Tribune titled “4 myths about safe spaces at NU and other campuses.” The article debunks the common misconception that safe spaces create a bubble that protects college students from the real world. Schapiro writes “when you feel safe, conversations get especially interesting.” Safe spaces are areas where people can gather to feel more comfortable voicing their opinions. This is not to say that every minority has the same opinions or beliefs, but simply to point out the sense of security that some of us lack when sharing ideas or opinions. Another contributor on this matter is Shaun R. Harper, a professor of education and executive director of the Race and Equity Center at the University of Southern California. He says, “a university really is supposed to be a marketplace of ideas, and those ideas can and should be divergent at times.” College classrooms often contain lively debates. Opinions surrounding these debates fall on all sides of the spectrum. Students who use safe spaces are not exempt from these conversations. If anything, they actually are the main contributors because they are given a secure space to voice their opinions prior to having to present them in the highly judgmental and competitive arena of the classroom.

In my experience, I feel more comfortable presenting my ideas in a place where I feel respected. This is applicable to safe spaces as well, as a student is not confined to the safe space. When I first started researching the issue I thought that safe spaces infringed on free speech on college campuses, but after doing further research, I came to the conclusion that safe spaces help to make sure all voices are heard. Safe spaces are not limited just to college, but also to life in general. For instance, my home is a place where I feel safe,and  in the past, I have feltl far more comfortable having debates with my family, than people in classrooms. I use the things I learn and discuss in my home, which is my safe space, to better my discussions in the real world.

While colleges still have many issues surrounding the controversial topic of free speech, I do not believe that safe spaces are one of them. The areas are made up of people with unique opinions and different stories. Ideas are a precious commodity and in the real world they are judged and picked apart. Safe spaces help people navigate the world around them and give them a support system as they try to figure out who they want to become.

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