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

  • Jonnathan

    What you’re talking about is largely subject to what you define as a “safe space.” Personally, I have no idea what this terms means when you use it because you don’t really definite. It appears like you see “safe spaces” as spaces where any dissenting opinion is not welcome, or at least politically unpopular opinions in the context of the space. However, it a “safe space” in my mind can range from anything resembling a safe environment in which you won’t be beat to death, to a place where you may as well put on matching outfits and practice speaking in unison.

    Again, it depends on what people mean when they say “safe space.” If, for example, someone is advocating that a university campus should be a safe space, depending on what they mean by it, I would either agree or disagree. I think a university campus should literally be a safe space where you won’t get physically attacked or repeatedly harassed, but that’s about it. As much as I dislike verbal attacks on people, that should not be for the law to intrude upon (apart from libel and slander). I’d like us to be respectful with each other and let the social consequences of being a dick play themselves out. I don’t think students should be penalized in the classroom for expressing views that may be unpopular. Even if someone says that they think the blacks are inherently less intelligent than whites or some other nonsense. I think we can all discern between stupid opinions and calls to actual violence against people.

    But calling for campuses to be safe spaces where you cannot challenge or express certain views is incredibly stupid. For one, anyone who is reading this and thinks that it is a good idea to simply prohibit expression of views like holocaust denial-ism, let’s flip the script and imagine a college where that is the default view and any opposing view is prohibited. Does that make any sense? No, it does not.

    Now, if someone seeks to establish a safe space somewhere on campus where you can hang out and feel like your opinions (as stupid as they may be) will not be challenged, then by all means. As long as it’s no different from any other exclusive club, it really doesn’t matter what your ideals are. But if someone thinks that prohibiting expression of certain views in classrooms or on campus in general is a good idea, please leave. Honestly. You are a child and cannot handle adult conversation.

    I also want to briefly touch upon the logic of prohibiting expression of certain opinions. For one, this is absolutely no different than any past or current totalitarian regime. North Korea and Russia come to mind, but I’m sure those who actually care about history would easily find parallels to USSR. At any rate, not only does this idea run contrary to what is probably one of the most crucial philosophical foundations of Western society, is it completely counter productive. Edgy or controversial opinions are incredibly important. Not only do you need to know what other people think, you need to know why they think it. This only HELPS to strengthen your own views and perhaps in some instances, might actually bring something new to your world view or even change your mind. You don’t grow as a person by ignoring or squashing contrary opinions. That is very bad and has lead to even more division in light of American political problems in the last few years. If you think an opinion is so bad that it’s dangerous, then argue against it! Show other people why it’s wrong! When you try to shut down conversation or keep certain opinions from being expressed, you’re only pushing them underground where they don’t go away, oh no, instead, they grow stronger and unite. Not only that, but it makes you look incredibly weak and afraid, like you can’t justify your own beliefs and would rather avoid challenge in fear of your belief system breaking down.

    I think political correctness IS an issue. It’s perhaps not whole issue, but it is definitely a large chunk. People will often cling to the use of certain words rather than the content of what is being said in an attempt to dismiss the content. There is this classic clip of CNN or some other cable news show where the anchor shut down the interview because a guest said the word “nigger” as part of a quote. As part of a quote! The mere utterance of the word was enough to shut down the conversation for this woman. I mean, come on. Context doesn’t matter now? How about we let people speak their mind and express their opinion. Even if it’s something racist or sexist. Wouldn’t you rather know who holds those opinions rather than not?

  • Shamol
  • C

    What is a safe space, exactly? This article never defines it. It seems to jump to various conservative talking points in a way that only makes sense to someone already acquainted with all the issues. Not a good way of convincing anyone of much of anything, I’d say. Plus, insulting the people you’re arguing with isn’t really the best debate tactic, is it…?

    This Time article is an okay rebuttal to some of the points here for anyone interested –

    • Guest

      So university students shouldn’t be treated as adults because someone got post-partum depression once? I think it’s a lot more insulting to suggest that “people of color” are unable to learn because of free speech than to call people snowflakes for shutting down a speech they disagree with. And if you want an example, look at how Wilifrid Laurier University threatened and humiliated a (left-leaning, not conservative) graduate teaching assistant because showing footage of a debate on made-up gender pronouns was too triggering.