Identifying the Right and Wrong Ways to Create a Safe Space


Gerald Maib

By The Easterner Editorial Board

Following the recent violent protests at UC Berkeley, the national debate on safe spaces has resparked.

So what is a safe space? Some define safe spaces as a place to go where one will not have to face unpleasant topics – a real world trigger-warning. Others say it is a place where one can go to openly discuss topics they don’t understand without fear of repercussions.

Of course, if you ask the writers of South Park, it means placing yourself into a room where, and singing a song about how, nobody can ever be mean to you and making sure that you never feel bad about yourself.

The Oxford Dictionary defines a safe space as “a place or environment in which a person or category of people can feel confident that they will not be exposed to discrimination, criticism, harassment, or any other emotional or physical harm.”

The thing with safe spaces is that it brings up questions about free speech and personal protection. If you choose to believe the definition that it is a place to go where you won’t have to face the topics that upset you or you that don’t agree with, then it is a place that impedes a person’s constitutional right to freedom of speech. It impedes a person’s right to disagree with someone else.

However, if you choose to define a safe space as a place one can go to discuss different subjects without worrying they will be harmed or harassed, as the EWU Pride Center defines it, then a safe space is a great idea.

According to the EWU Pride Center mission statement, “the Pride Center provides support and advocacy, empowers student voices, connects community members to on-campus and local resources, creates and facilitates inspiring programs and events, and delivers educational trainings and workshops to members of the EWU community.”

People should be able to openly discuss different, potentially touchy subjects without worrying they will be harassed or openly mocked.

Honestly, the protestors at UC Berkeley went about it all wrong. According to the press release from UC Berkeley, protesters were setting fires, throwing fireworks at police and breaking windows.

Say what you will about Milo Yiannopoulous, but he does have a right to speak, however pointed his beliefs are. Being violent simply because one doesn’t agree with another person’s beliefs should never be the answer.

According to the UC Berkeley press release, the event was cancelled to ensure that those attending the event, Yiannopoulous and those who were protesting the right way were safe from harm.

Several universities in the Northwest have cancelled their scheduled Yiannopoulous talks in response to the protests in Seattle and Berkeley, and while they claim to do so in order to protect their students, it is also impeding the free speech of not only Yiannopoulous but those students who support him.

We can’t just curl-up in a ball in the corner and cover our ears because we don’t like what we are hearing. That is not the way to handle things. We are, for all intents and purposes, adults, and we need to act like it. There are people in the world who might not agree with our beliefs and positions, and that is okay. If fact, it should be encouraged. The only way to learn and grow is to encounter new ideas and beliefs. Shutting yourself off or becoming violent because someone says something you don’t agree with is childish.

Universities should not be the breeding ground for the safe space movement. As the writers of South Park said, “The world is not one big liberal arts college campus.” People come to college to learn and expand their horizons; to encounter new ideas and form their own opinions; to become a well-educated member of society, not to pout and throw a temper tantrum because someone said something they don’t agree with.

There is always going to be someone out there who doesn’t agree with you, but they have a right to their own opinion, as do you. If the topic is emotionally traumatic, don’t go. You have the right to not go, just as others have the right to go and listen.