Intolerance and the danger of safe space mentality

Winnie Caskey, Distribution Manager/Archivist

The trend on college campuses to actively fight against free speech when it goes against the ideology some students has become problematic in recent years. In these instances, there is no tolerance for opinions when they disagree with another group. Rather than civil discourse, there is an active, often aggressive attempt to shut down the voice of dissenting opinion.
There are differing ideas when the term “safe space” is mentioned so it should be explained before we can agree about why they are harmful and even dangerous. I am not speaking about the necessary refuge for like-minded comrades to have environments where they can go to be with others of the same mindset as themselves. We have always gone to safe places, judgment-free zones, where we are supported by like-minded friends. These are not places to invite challenge, certainly not opposition. This is why we join clubs and go to church. These places are where we gain strength emotionally and ideologically so then we can go out into the world with confidence to challenge and be challenged by alternative ideas.
The type of safe space that is harmful is when we do not allow any place for difference of opinion. We have forgotten how to debate. We cover our ears and act like little children who refuse to hear what is being said because we do not want to change our mind and we are not articulate enough to challenge dissenting opinion.
Van Jones, an American political and civil rights activist and former adviser to former President Barack Obama, recently spoke at the University of Chicago. What he had to say was “tough talk for my liberal friends.” He then brought up something we all need to hear:
“I don’t want you to be safe ideologically. I don’t want you to be safe emotionally. I want you to be strong. That’s different. I’m not going to pave the jungle for you. Put on some boots and learn how to deal with adversity. I’m not going to take the weights out of the gym. That’s the whole point of the gym. You can’t live on a campus where people say stuff that you don’t like? […] You are creating a kind of liberalism that the minute it crosses the street into the real world is not just useless but obnoxious and dangerous. I want you to be offended every single day on this campus. I want you to be deeply aggrieved and offended and upset and then to learn how to speak back.”
The entire conversation can be found on YouTube, “CLIP: Van Jones on safe spaces on college campuses.”

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