On Thursday, Nov. 12, the Association of African-American Collegians (AAAC) presented a list of 19 demands to Webster University administration. The tenth demand called for the creation of “safe spaces” for black students on campus. The idea of established safe spaces are becoming a wildly popular concept on the more liberal college campuses for fear of hurting someone’s feelings. While that might be the most comfortable solution, it might also be the most damaging.
The group Advocates for Youth defines safe spaces as a place where anyone can relax and be fully self-expressed, without fear of being made to feel uncomfortable, unwelcome or challenged on account of biological sex, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, cultural background, age, or physical or mental ability; a place where the rules guard each person’s self-respect, dignity and feelings and strongly encourage everyone to conform to majority opinions.
Racism is a problem the world seems unable to overcome. Students at Webster, to their credit, are making great strides in creating an open dialogue for all people to air their grievances in a respectful and open atmosphere.
Creating safe spaces for any race, however, is not progression. I believe it does the exact opposite by hindering students and coddling them like children. It is essentially segregating your race while doing nothing to relieve the tensions that clearly exist. This point is underlined in the wording of the demands by the AAAC specifically aimed at black students: “We demand the creation of safe spaces for black students on campus by Spring 2017.”
The real world is an incredibly cruel place. The real world does not care about your past, your insecurities or your beliefs. Whether this is because of a history of institutionalized racism or some other reason does not change this fact. There are no safe spaces for adults to go where they do not have to worry about their feelings being hurt, because that just is not how society works. The only safe space a person really has is the place they sleep at night and inside their own head.
It may seem a bit cliché to quote a television show, but one line from a South Park episode really hit the nail on the head. A character named Reality says to a large assembly “I’m sorry, the world is not one big liberal arts college campus.” Students can attempt to shelter themselves all they want, but do not expect reality to cater to what you think is fair.
Society in America is comprised of people with radically different backgrounds coming together, and sometimes those differences create conflict. It can be uncomfortable and cause stress, but that is the way the world works. You cannot run away from your problems and attempt to shut out anything that makes you upset. The only real way to survive these conflicts and thrive in this environment is to develop a thick skin and deal with it.
The answer is not to segregate yourselves by creating a space where no dissenting opinions are allowed.
Coming to college is meant to be an introduction to the way the real world works. At Webster, students from across the country come together to learn and interact as they mature. These people are confronted with the varied upbringings of their peers as they gain a deeper understanding of the full impact of becoming an adult. Creating a space devoid of those dissenting opinions is the equivalent of a child covering their ears and loudly proclaiming “La la la, I can’t hear you.”
In order to grow as individuals, we must face these tensions together. We all need to be forced into uncomfortable conversations so that people of all races can be confronted with their own prejudices.
Everybody has them whether they want to admit it or not, and I believe every single person should be called out for them, including me. Having our character flaws pointed out to us is how we learn to grow and how we truly learn to live together in understanding. I do not want delicate sensibilities to hold me back from being confronted with the truth of reality, and neither should you.