If you want a safe space, drop out of college

College protests that trample on rights are counter-productive.

William Rickards

William RickardsColleges around the United States have gone off the deep end in the past month. College administrators have been dropping like flies from Mizzou, Yale, Amherst, and now Claremont McKenna College amid student protests. What were these administrator’s egregious acts? Well, it depends who you ask.

Protestors at University of Missouri calling themselves the “Concerned Students 1950,” have listed demands for more racial inclusion and the creation of “safe spaces” on campus. This list of demands garnered attention after a “poop swastika” of dubious existence was found last month in a dormitory bathroom. This ridiculous incident caused uproar on the campus.

What followed, was nothing short of madness. During the next few weeks, protesters demanded that administrators institute racial sensitivity training and diversity classes for all students on campus, which they had already done, the press was barred from protests, and fake reports of the KKK being on campus were disseminated by student counsel president Peyton Head, reports which he was later forced to retract. One student went on a hunger strike. Members of the football team refused to play unless demands were met.

The penultimate moment of all this was during one of these demonstrations when media studies associate professor Melissa Click asks for “muscle” to remove a student from covering a public demonstration at MIzzou in a video which has since gone viral. Click resigned from her courtesy position within the school’s journalism department, ironically, along with the administrator that she was protesting against.

This nuclear mess was not limited to Mizzou, however. Students at Yale have also kicked up a fuss over an email sent from a professor at Silliman College to students, which preached to them the value of self-governance in choosing Halloween costumes. In the email, Erika Christakis, a lecturer at Silliman College at Yale, writes, “if you don’t like a costume someone is wearing, look away, or tell them you are offended. Talk to each other. Free speech and the ability to tolerate offence are the hallmarks of a free and open society.”

That’s it.

Not “go dress in blackface.”

Not “cultural appropriation is a myth.”

All this professor wrote in an email to students was to talk to each other about your problems and don’t rely on a centralized figure to make rules about something you disagree with. This email motivated students to accost Christakis’ husband, Nicholas Christakis, who also helped pen the email and is a lecturer at the college.

During a video of the confrontation between Nicholas and the students, one girl can be heard shrieking at him, “who the f*** hired you,” adding that Christakis was “disgusting,” and tells him that he didn’t know how to create a safe space. In an op-ed about the incident, in the Yale Herald, a student wrote that he doesn’t “want to have a debate, [he] wants to talk about [his] pain.”

And when examined critically this is the most dangerous statement of all, and also the most revealing. The idea that an opposing viewpoint is not only incorrect or misguided but actively evil and “problematic” is the mantra of college liberals. The agenda revolves around a fundamental law of American politics observed by Charles Krauthammer: Conservatives believe liberals are stupid, but liberals believe conservatives are evil. It is this dangerous ideology in which something as benign as the tolerance of speech and an opposing opinion is labelled “problematic” and must be shut down.

Certainly conservative-leaning students on college campuses can find no such safe space when everyday they attend classes in liberal bastions. I can’t rightly recall the last time Students for Liberty marched down Broad Street but just last week Temple Socialists, Philly Socialists, and the Black Student Union marched down Broad Street demanding a $15 minimum wage, free public tuition, and erasure of all college debt. Surely, I believe these students to be grossly misguided, economically illiterate even, but evil? Problematic? No, they have every right to march for what they believe in. I would never call for administrators to make them take an economics class to explain to them how price floors work.

When adding up the list of sins of these recent movements, I can’t help but get the feeling that this is a function of this ideology rather than a bug in the system. All rational voices can agree that physical safety of students, especially minority students, in the face of virulent racism is of utmost importance. However, if a student’s idea of a “safe space” is one in which they are shielded from criticism, shielded from doubt or one in which opposing speech is actively barred, then I, and many others, have truly been alienated.

If your idea of safety is one in which administrators who oppose your ideas even a little are forced to resign, then you have also abandoned and misinterpreted entirely what basic rights, let alone college, are supposed to be about.

If you want to be challenged, go to college. If you want to be “safe” stay at home.

William Rickards can be reached at william.rickards@temple.edu.

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