According to the Safe Space Network, “A Safe Space is a place where anyone can relax and be able to fully express, without fear of being made to feel uncomfortable, unwelcome, or unsafe on account of biological sex, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, cultural background, religious affiliation, age or physical or mental ability.”
However, these spaces have been condemned by some quarters on the basis that they infringe on freedom of speech, hinder intellectual progressiveness, coddle students from the harsh realities which they will face in the “real world” and create a victim-hood culture.
It should be noted that, in reality, Safe Spaces do create platforms for students to freely express themselves in various ways which may not always be acceptable in mainstream culture.
The opinion that some students make themselves victims by speaking out against forms of oppression is in itself an obstacle to progression of equality through discussion. The very notion that Safe Spaces coddle students fails to acknowledge that some students genuinely need a place where they can feel protected.
Here are some reasons why introduction of Safe Spaces on campuses should be considered:
1. In Safe Spaces, students can openly share the challenges that they face, arising from their social identity.
Quite a number of Safe Spaces consist of identity groups, consisting of but not limited to: race, gender, sexual orientation and religious affiliation. In this environment, students from similar and dissimilar backgrounds can explore challenges which they have faced because of their social identity. Such interactions help students realize that they are not on their own in facing a particular form of discrimination, and other members can validate their experiences and give them advice on how to cope.
2. Safe spaces can provide a robust support network for students.
This type of support enables one to cope better and to feel less isolated through connection with other people who may be facing similar challenges. This gives one a sense of empowerment, which ultimately builds up confidence.
3. Safe Spaces provide a place where marginalized voices can be heard.
Individuals from minority groups get an opportunity to speak out without fear of their experiences being diminished. For feminist groups, this might mean speaking up about controversial issues such as victim-blaming in cases of rape without the fear of being "mansplained." For black student organizations, this may include speaking about police brutality without being shut down or being dismissively told that “all lives matter.”
4. Safe Spaces provide a place for healing.
Being able to tell one’s story in one’s own words in a friendly and closed environment can aid the process of healing. Self-expression without fear of being criticized for being overly-sensitive or having one’s experiences being belittled can go a long way in allowing individuals the opportunity to heal and regain their sense of control.
5. Safe Spaces enable allies to gain insight into issues that other people experience.
This includes issues which these allies themselves have not experienced. Such exposure prepares them for providing effective support for people in marginalized groups.Through dialogue, more privileged people can gain a deeper sense of understanding of their privilege and can use this knowledge to support social equity for marginalized groups.
Creating Safe Spaces on campus does not over-protect students from real life issues. Safe Spaces can equip students with tools for coping with forms of implicit or explicit injustice and discrimination, so that they can reach a deeper level of empowerment without fear of being subjected to bigotry.
Lead Image Credit: Alexis Brown via Unsplash