The problem with ‘The Problem with Safe Spaces’
So I was all excited to write a critical post on the College Republicans’ “The Problem with Safe Spaces” flier when I discovered that someone had beaten me to it. Sarah Ngu did a good job in dealing with the somewhat legitimate issues raised by CUCR, but purposely ignored the weaker arguments as they were presented on the flier. I thought I’d spend this post taking on those weaker arguments because, well, they were sort of awful (and because, like I said, Sarah beat me to the other stuff).
The main problem with the arguments made by the College Republicans is that they seem to want to exist in a world other than our own. They claim to “look forward to the day when society is free from discrimination,” and then argue as if we’ve already reached that point. They intellectualize the Safe Spaces and do so free from context, so that the flier begins as if these spaces had cropped up yesterday: “The establishment of ‘safe spaces,’ such as the Stephen Donaldson (for LGBTQ) and Malcolm X (for Blacks) lounges, is troubling on many levels.” They go on to make statements like “the designation of particular areas as ‘safe’ suggests that the rest of the campus is in some way dangerous” and, “rather than promoting inclusivity, ‘safe spaces’ emphasize the differences between students and legitimize a mentality of on-campus victimization.”
First of all, these “safe spaces” are not new to Columbia—both the Malcolm X Lounge and the Stephen J. Donaldson (formerly the “Gay Lounge”) were established in the 1970s. They have existed on this campus for more than 30 years because for more than 30 years there has been a need for them. The notion that safe spaces imply that “the rest of campus is in some way dangerous” serves as a nice soundbite, but misrepresents the issue. It wants us to conclude that such lounges are unnecessary because minorities on campus don’t seem to face any immediate risk of physical harm. But these safe spaces aren’t panic rooms—each one is, as the Office of Student Affairs points out, an “intellectual, cultural, and social safe-haven.”
Of course the question is, “safe-havens from what?” The answer, obvious as it seems, is prejudice. The College Republicans seem to believe that minorities at Columbia face no prejudice (physically, intellectually, or otherwise), and that the lounges therefore constitute “special treatment.” They want to “celebrate the diversity of this university’s individuals rather than that of its factions.” Again, these arguments treat the world as it should be and not as it is. The fact is, people do identify in “factions,” (By the way, CUCR, your word choice is troubling. There is nothing wrong with identifying with a minority group. One might even argue that you—the College Republicans—are one example of such a group, and one that faces a certain kind of prejudice at Columbia) and prejudice does exist on this campus. I won’t pretend to know what it is like to be a minority, or to be able to fully explain the nature of this prejudice (though I don’t think any of us has to look too far back to recall the last time we heard one of our peers utter a slur or express a bias), but the simple fact that the LGBT and Black communities at Columbia feel the need to have such lounges should be proof enough that they’re necessary and should be reason enough for their existence.
Indeed, what was most offensive about the arguments made by the College Republicans is the idea that these safe spaces are somehow an affront to campus life. They claim that they prevent an “inclusive society,” when in fact the groups that use the Malcolm X and Stephen J. Donaldson lounges are all about inclusiveness. Truthfully I find it hard to understand why the College Republicans chose to raise this non-issue now. I look forward, as they do, “to the day when society is free from discrimination,” but until that day I hope we can all agree to leave Columbia’s safe spaces alone.
Leave a Comment
Be nice. Don't use HTML tags. And consider reading our full comment policy.