The Original “Safe Space”

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On Monday the focus of media coverage at the University of Missouri moved from racial-injustice and concern over campus violence to freedom of speech as a video emerged student-journalist Tim Tai attempted to photograph and enter the protestors campsite.

The response was a demand that he leave and after refusing assistant professor Melissa Quick physically blocked Tai from moving further, tried to grab the video camera being held by student Mark Schierbecker, and requested muscle to help forcefully move Tim from the area.

When asked why he wasn’t allowed to be there Click told him among other things that this was a “safe space.”  This is a popular phrase used on University campuses for an area where people are able to share their views without being challenged.  It also gives the idea of not being faced with information that would be viewed offensive or frightening.

I personally find the idea of a safe space ridiculous since it gives a warped view of reality.  The real world is to be honest many things, but safe isn’t one of them.  And sending out a generation of College graduates who have no experience of their views being challenged is incredibly offensive. 

But of course calling these safe places ridiculous doesn’t really deal with the problem, to do that we must go to the original safe space.

You see this idea didn’t just come up overnight.  A young adult didn’t just wake up one morning and say “you know what, I don’t think anybody has the right to tell me I’m wrong, or share an opposing view anymore.”  Instead this idea was planted in their minds by online communication (particularly through social media) and it grew over time.

I read an interesting article this week called “How (not) to respond to offensive ideas” that describes how we view people with a disagreeing viewpoint either as a terrible person (labeling them) or ourselves as a victim.

It is too easy to retreat into labels which discredit and disgrace others. homophobe, racist, sexist: these all have a place, but we are generally too quick to use them when we feel our views or even our very selves have been slighted in any way. An opinion expressed online is often not a personal attack.

And we are not victims when other people think different thoughts to us. We must relinquish the culture of victimhood that is taking society captive, not least because we are not all victims, and to cry foul after reading something disagreeable to us diminishes the grievances of actual victims.

The author (Tess Holgate) continues by explaining this response to opposing viewpoints will eventually create people who cannot defend their own views.  This is incredibly sad because it’s my belief websites like Facebook were originally created for conversation about difficult issues among other things.  Today it’s just about attacking those whose views are different from ours.

And it isn’t just social media.  A growing number of news-sites have decided to either completely shut down their comments sections, or add a lot more control to what’s posted.  Again what was originally meant for healthy conversation has turned into a war zone.

As we spend more and more time slinging mud instead of defending our views online this starts to affect our day-to-day conversations.  Things as simple as listening to a persons viewpoint instead of trying to figure out a way to prove them wrong have been forgotten.

There is no easy answer to equipping a generation of college students for a world that isn’t filled with safe spaces.  But perhaps the first step in that direction is reclaiming a place that was originally meant for conversation and wrestle together with the deep issues of society for the Glory of God.

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