April 4, 2015


At the 1962 Yale commencement, President John F. Kennedy said, “Too often … we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.” He could have spoken those words with equal accuracy today. Many students seem to avoid engaging at all costs with ideas that scare them.

You have a right to be safe on campus. The creators of safe spaces usually have good intentions. If students actually have a panic attack during a lecture given by a controversial figure, they should have a safe place in which they could recuperate — I imagine a dorm room would probably suffice. Puppies and Play-Doh seem a little infantile to me, but I understand the intention. No one should be harmed by an educational event, but since we can generally avoid lectures, talks or screenings with which we disagree, I have trouble understanding why students would attend an event knowing it would harm them.

The problem arises when the idea of “a right to be safe” is extended to “a right to be comfortable” — and demanded. I found an example of this overreach in an online piece from Bluestockings Magazine entitled “Geographies of Safety: Mapping Safe Spaces for Students of Color at Brown University.” On Google Maps, the author, Aanchal Saraf ’16, purported to show a map of safe and unsafe spaces at Brown for students of color. Green indicated “safe,” while red marked places that she deemed were “unsafe.” And each marker had comments submitted by students specifying the reasoning behind a particular delineation.

I found a few I considered utterly ridiculous. Graduate Center was marked unsafe because it was “dingy.” Plantations House was considered unsafe because it has mice. New Dorm and Young Orchard are unsafe because “rich/international people live there.” I couldn’t help but laugh at the absurdity of these markers. The author abused the rationale of safe spaces. Even the Nelson Fitness Center and the president’s house were marked as unsafe — the commentators felt a “fear of physical violence” in those buildings. I’m sorry, but unless you’re benching without a spotter, you’re probably safe in the Nelson. And I can say from personal experience that President Paxson’s P’19 dogs don’t bite.

It’s worth remembering that, although it may seem that college students have all gone crazy, it’s actually a small number of “activists,” in cahoots with “Student Life” administrator types, who are making all the noise. Ignore the activists, and fire the administrators, and colleges would be much better places.

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