Safe spaces limit free and open discourse

By in Opinions

Open discussion and free speech are incredibly important, so it is surprising how regularly people’s voices are silenced and their opinions are dismissed in the university environment because of safe-space initiatives. I believe this needs to stop.

It would seem that the    University of Saskatchewan’s student base is well populated by left-wing millennials who often drown out the few conservative voices on campus. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, having such an overwhelming majority of liberal voices limits the diversity of views and values that we can express on campus.

The so-called safe spaces that the university fosters are, ironically, a large source of exclusion — primarily of ideas and conversations. In our crusade to close any discussion that may prove to criticize a certain demographic, we have eliminated the possibility of having some very useful conversations.

Instead of taking traditionally unpopular views — like the ones often labelled conservative — and having open conversations about whether or not they are good views to have, we instantly dismiss ideas, new and old, creating an environment of censorship and intolerance.

Conversations about conservative ideas are often swept aside by snowflakes under the pretense that being offensive or controversial is grounds for suppressing an idea. If we can’t even have open discussions about something as factual as whether or not using weed is healthy, how will we ever approach subjective topics like gender fluidity, abortion or anything even remotely involving culture?

As millennials, we love criticizing our parents and grandparents, whose conservative views led them to label progressive discussions off limits for being taboo. Yet, we fail to see how, ironically, our progressiveness has swung the pendulum in the other direction — our hypersensitivity is now labelling conservative discussions off limits for being too controversial.

We’d like to think that we’re better at having open conversations about controversy than our parents, but the reality is, we’re actually worse. We shun anyone who voices controversial viewpoints, sometimes even violently — a tactic used by Antifa, a self-proclaimed anti-fascist group.

To be clear, political correctness is not the issue — the real problem is that many people are too easily offended. People have issues separating their views from their identities. This creates a hostile situation in which no conversation can take place, because all views are too closely tied to people’s identities. We shouldn’t treat criticism as a personal attack.

Take traditional Indigenous medicine practices, for example. Discussion about whether or not modern medicine is more effective in certain cases than the alternative medicines used by Indigenous people is simply a discussion                        of fact and science, not an      attack on Indigenous culture.

Although Indigenous practices like healing circles and medicinal traditions are an integral part of many people’s pasts, their cultural importance should not make them off limits to scrutiny. This applies to all opinions and views, and any criticism of a view someone holds is not an attack on that person.

The first step to improving anything in life is conducting an open and unbiased evaluation of it, regardless of the possibility of the assessment resulting in harsh criticism. If this university is serious about its pledges to openness and diversity, then I think it needs to be a place that is open to all diverse opinions.

Take a step back and separate your views from your identity, and you’ll realize that criticism — especially self-criticism — is one of the most fundamental aspects of being human. Giving alternative viewpoints in lectures and group discussions is one of the easiest ways to help yourself and others to better support their views — or to support entirely different ones altogether.

We won’t ever be flawless in our self-reflection, but criticism can only lead to better-developed views, which should be our end goal.

Wyatt Bernier

Graphic: Lesia Karalash / Graphics Editor