Are Safe Spaces Necessary?

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"discussion" by Frank Hebbert is licensed under Creative Commons.

by Mia Schoenbeck

After a week of a tense social climate at the Chicago High School for the Arts (ChiArts), steps are being taken to heal the community. During advisory in the last week of school, there was a campaign of “peer circles” to promote healing, restoration and “safe spaces.”

Safe spaces, according to the Safe School Coalition, are spaces that “Respect all aspects of people including race, ethnicity, gender expression, sexual orientation, socio-economic background, age, religion, and ability.” This is positive. There should be a push for the community to heal from the hurt that has been caused by racism within the school. More than that, students should feel safe in their classrooms.

However, feeling safe shouldn’t hamper classroom discussions — especially when those discussions could help solve the underlying problems with the community at this school. The point of school is to learn, and people learn by questioning their own beliefs along with other people’s. Unfortunately, sometimes learning and helping others learn comes at the price of comfort. However, when discomfort is talked out in a discussion among peers, difficulties can often be worked out. The biggest problem with safe spaces is that while there is a push to have them, there often lacks a drive toward open communication around conflict.

This is a complaint I heard from several students after the advisory student circles. Instead of trying to get to the bottom of the strained race relations obviously present, teachers tend to ignore the opinions of students across the board by jumping straight into quiet reflection.

I know I learn by talking to others, as I have a different background and a different perspective. I can’t learn how to respect others when I’m not able to talk with peers of differing points of view.

“Safe spaces are only effective solutions when they offer up open communication instead of ignoring problems by not talking about them,” said Creative Writing Senior Chester Wilson. Right now, there should be a focus on communication.

The problems with race at this school aren’t going to go away unless we can come together as a community and discuss exactly why they exist. Safe spaces are good for all schools to have; there has to be a level of respect for everyone.

By opening communication, we can learn about each other and what is behind prejudice. Then we can start gaining respect for each other again.

“[Safe Space] is an ideal concept that cannot be achieved unless there is a mutual respect for open discourse. A safe space should be a platform for different realms of reality to be showcased, not rejected,” said Creative Writing Senior Noire Lin.

Focusing on safe spaces is a fool’s errand when there has to be a discussion. Our problems here come from a lack of empathy and respect. Trying to build a space around an absence of respect while ignoring the lack crucial communication won’t help any situation, as opinions will just lay dormant until the next time they come out in a misguided, prejudiced comment that only damages the relationships at this school even more.

We have to fix how we treat each other. That is imperative. Once we have the necessary respect for our fellow peers, we can finally start to build a community of acceptance. But until that respect is built up through learning from those who are different from us, safe spaces are ineffectual solutions.

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