Stepping out of the house this morning, there was a chill to the air that was an intensely stark contrast to my stuffy apartment. Fall is falling over Denver, and the brisk 50 degrees is a harsh farewell to bonfires and backyard BBQs, weeknights spent dancing at Charlie’s, and weekend-long music festivals. Summer is over, the school bell has rung, and life is back to early mornings on the light rail, late nights cramming for exams, and the countless repeated sentence, “I can’t; I have homework.”
At 32 years-old, I am considered a “non-traditional student.” This basically means I figured out my sh*t later than most, so here I am returning to college to finally pursue what I’m passionate about, and the final week of August means the return to uncomfortable chairs and all the caffeine I can afford.
Truth be told, I often zone out during the first day of class as I sit there, hour after hour, as every instructor thumbs through the never-ending syllabus read-alouds (why must they always be out loud?). This exercise is merely a sick, torturous precursor of what stress is inevitably going to be bestowed upon me during the next 16 weeks. This semester, though, one class stuck out like a breath of fresh air, even though it initially began unlike any of the others.
My professor, who shall remain anonymous, took a stand at the podium and immediately designated the classroom as a Safe Space.
The professor explained how in this particular classroom, violence, harassment, or hate speech would not be tolerated. They went on further to disclose that their daughter is trans and because of the love for her and for the LGBTQ community, this space would be open for constructive communication towards all gender and sexual identities, races, ages, and creeds.
What a relief as a queer person! I have this professor on my side and in the corner for the marginalized and underrepresented. I liked this class already.
Yet, as much of a relief as it was, I immediately had questions. Why this concept hadn’t been presented in any of my other classes? What does this mean for my safety and identity in other rooms? If I were to disclose something in this space, would that same demand for respect be carried into the next classroom? Furthermore, I can’t recall a time in an institution or place of work where I was explicitly told I was in a safe space.
I went to college in a progressive city in Southern California and have worked for large corporations, small mom-and-pop shops, and across a vast array of industries and professions. As safe as I felt most of the time, none of these places can I ever recall the concept of a designated safe space being mentioned. And yet, I immediately knew exactly what my professor meant when the term was used.
I am free to by myself, free from unjust bias and fear of disclosure of my identity and my partner. I am safe.
The idea of a safe space was so incredible that I decided to peruse the internet to see what kinds of companies, organizations, and institutions uphold the ideal. Without realizing what I was in for, article after article surfaced that was against utilization of safe spaces. People claim they threaten the integrity of college campuses, they censor for the overly sensitive, and can cause disruption in the classroom.
Claims are, as the Huffington Post reported, that these designated spaces create an intolerant group of ideological self segregation. Or, as Fox News stated, that they are a “promotion of a ‘PC culture’ where real or perceived threatening thoughts or ideas should not be tolerated,” and should be considered unconstitutional.
I felt anger, confusion, outrage, disgust. Who, exactly, is this space threatening? How does creating an environment that is non-voilent, harassment-free, and anti-discriminatory create a threat? Doesn’t this create the opposite, in fact?
Change is difficult, yet it is often essential to survival.
If we are to co-exist, whether it be in a classroom, in the workplace, or just walking beside one another on Colfax, shouldn’t this be the first thing we designate? We have to agree that a safe space is meant for each person to be authentically themselves, free from fear of being “found out” and discriminated against.
This is where college becomes the breeding ground for the next generation of thinkers and normative challengers. While I may be older, and hopefully wiser, I still have a lot to learn. Thank goodness for fresh starts and persistent educators who demand better for their classrooms and their students.