Rescuing Safe Spaces from Rhetorical Bullshit

Guys. Listen. I know I said I wasn’t going to get into my thoughts on the University of Chicago letter, but, despite the fact that I consider myself a huge skeptic when it comes to safe spaces, I am really taken aback by some of the sentiments expressed against them. My issue with safe spaces is pretty simple: I’m not convinced they can actually exist. I’m not sure that a safe space for women is inclusive of all women, I’m not sure that a safe space for LGBTQ+ folks can be inclusive of anyone who self identifies as any of those labels. The simple fact is that even within the same categories, individuals express themselves differently, hence the word “individual,” and it’s quite possible for a gay republican to get into a fight with female-identified male bodied radical leftist in the LGBTQ+ center. For example. I have no idea how you could construct a safe space outside of the one we already know exists: that space which emerges when you get together with people who know you well and who love you, be they friends, romantic partners, teachers, or family. I have no idea how you could create a space that reproduced that as a constant, for any given category of people. To my mind, there is an non-resolvable tension between needing to be inclusive and exclusive at the same time. Therefore, it seems to me that each individual must be tasked with finding his or her own safe space.  But for heaven’s sake, I’d love to be proven wrong.

What has taken me aback, I mean really surprised me, is the way the people who oppose safe spaces seem to think that it is a natural part of adulthood to feel sad, hurt, angry or alienated. This is simply what it means to be a grownup. You’re not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy. YOUR TEARS ARE THE NEW ROUTINE.  I mean, it’s preposterous. Forget all the damn isms, forget Israel/Palestine, forget social justice. It is true that institutional or societal oppression is one reason why you might need a safe space, but another is a bad break up, feeling insecure around your peers, a death or illness, anxiety or depression, or just wanting a place to feel like you can be you.

And the thing is: The University of Chicago isn’t even saying that. The university is talking about intellectual safe spaces, which definitely don’t exist. UChicago is merely affirming that it will continue to invite speakers promoting offensive ideas, along with all kinds of other speakers promoting all kinds of other ideas, while its community engages in the tough work of challenging boundaries together. That ain’t safe, nor should it be.  If we are going to critique the letter, it should be on the grounds of entirely failing to provide context for its statement — events which occurred on the University of Chicago’s campus and other campus across the country — and it failed to observe that its responsibility extends not only to intellectual growth, but also social development, and had it addressed that important point, it surely would have to acknowledge that in the context of social life (civic, personal, and etc), safe spaces are important.

What’s my point? My point is: stop being dicks in the name of cynicism.

By jtp

Joanna Tova Price has a lot of heart.

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