Should there be safe spaces on college campuses?


Fact Box

  • A “safe space” is not limited to a physical location. It can be something as simple as a group of people who hold similar values that provide a supportive, respectful environment for each other.
  • When the safe space idea is carried too far, some administrators and academics worry that it might be a hindrance to the diversity of viewpoints in conversations and could leave graduates unprepared for situations in the real world.
  • Anxiety is of top concern among college students (41.6 percent), second is depression (36.4 percent), and relationship issues (35.8 percent). 
  • Over 45 percent of young adults who stopped attending college because of mental health related reasons did not request accommodation, and half of them did not access mental health services and support.

Bill (No)

Colleges should not offer 'safe spaces' – period. For this discussion, a 'safe space' is defined as a place students can go to avoid being confronted with ideas that run counter to their beliefs or point of view. Colleges are sometimes referred to as institutions of higher learning. By definition, safe spaces present an obstacle to learning. By shutting down opportunities to explore new ideas, and debate opposing points of view, a student is effectively stunting their academic and personal growth. Safe spaces go further in the direction of anti-learning, by contributing to the modern phenomenon of the 'cancel culture' – a euphemism for eliminating free speech.

Safe spaces reward whiny, self-absorbed students – prolonging adolescence instead of preparing them to face a world of diverse ideas. A whole slew of new terms have since been developed to normalize and justify the incessant coddling of our future generation of leaders. Terms, such as 'trigger warnings' and 'microaggressions,' are chosen to raise alarm bells about a potential new idea coming the student's way, which they may find unpalatable. This does not bode well for the durability and resilience of our next generation of leaders.

Finally, safe spaces lead to polarization and intolerance, which colleges should be discouraging, not encouraging. Students who claim to be offended by an opposing idea or guest lecturer invited on campus to explore a topic, reinforce the notion that there are good ideas and bad ideas, and that people who hold opposing views are evil, or dangerous. Safe spaces on college campuses are toxic and should be banished.

Alexandra (Yes)

While college campuses should not coddle students, the absence of safe spaces is detrimental to a student's sense of security. Merriam Webster defines safe spaces as 'a place...intended to be free of bias, conflict, criticism, or potentially threatening actions, ideas, or conversations.' The goal of safe spaces is not to silence controversial opinions, but, to create a controlled environment where all participants must be respectful of one another.

Safe spaces reinforce student mental health. According to the Washington Post, 1 in 3 first-year college students show signs of mental disorder. Conflict is difficult, and some students perceive discourse as dangerous or too difficult. Healthline reveals that safe spaces provide a tool for at-risk students to be vulnerable while actively participating in discussions inside and out of the classroom.

Safe spaces create students who are more receptive to others' ideas. The purpose of a safe space is to decrease antagonism during discussion. If students are forced to avoid ad-hominem attacks, held to a standard of decency, and asked to respect opposing ideas, they inherently participate in a fruitful discussion.

Safe spaces encourage healthier centers of discourse. Critics fear 'non-PC' ideas are disproportionately stifled in these environments. However, the standard of a safe space goes both ways. An individual who challenges PC ideas is held to the same standard as a student who chooses to uphold them. Neither is permitted to be unduly rude. In fact, safe spaces may be one of the only places where opposing groups can exchange ideas, upholding the very goal of college.

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