Last week, I discussed the merits of trigger warnings and how they are respectful courtesies to people who have been impacted by trauma. This week, I’m looking at the parallel debate involving safe spaces on campus and how they are important and the least we can do to help people.
In my opinion, safe spaces have a fairly self-explanatory objective: to create an environment where someone in a minority group can go where the group they’re in doesn’t completely define them. It’s definitely important to note that this is simply my view of what such a space should be, and there are certainly variations to the space based on who inhabits it. Declaring somewhere a safe space is essentially saying that an area is a place for certain things/discussions and not a place for other things/discussions. This distinction is how safe spaces ended up caught in a debate about free speech (see previous issue’s mention of the article from the Atlantic), but they’re really just actively changing what topics are considered socially appropriate in an area- and, like trigger warnings, any change in social norms are met with resistance.
In understanding the need for designated safe spaces it’s important to recognize that a lot of spaces are tacitly safe for certain people but not for others- different people have different needs. Safe spaces are analogous to trigger warnings in the sense that trigger warnings would only affect a certain (and often small) number of people, but those people are affected greatly by them- if you feel like you don’t have anywhere to go (or have few places), a single space can make a large difference. Designating a space to have a specific social purpose offers an opportunity for people to have more options when finding a place to be. Safe spaces, in order to remain safe, also have to be maintained, and part of maintaining the space is affirming its purpose. This is especially important for the people who don’t need the space since they would be able to alter its purpose in a way that wasn’t intended, thus ruining the space. Thus, for safe spaces, it’s very important to keep yourself in consideration with regards to how you interact with the space, since it’s very easy to ruin it for those who need it.