I’ve done a lot of thinking in past few weeks about the events that unfolded across the country as students from dozens of universities demonstrated in solidarity with the University of Missouri and the rather harsh criticism the students, myself included, received from mostly right-wing conservatives. Perfect timing considering these demonstrations took place right before Thanksgiving, guaranteeing lively conversation in between bites of turkey and stuffing. Arguments in the past few weeks, and no doubt in the coming weeks, generally focus on marginalized students’ need for “safe spaces” and adults’ rejection of those. Honestly, I agree to an extent with the latter party. In fact, to hell with safe spaces.
When I came to Boston College, like many students I’m sure, I expected to be surrounded by other kids who were relatively on par with me academically (if not on par, then more advanced no doubt) with whom I could foster some meaningful conversations because, hey, we all got in to the same school. The admissions counselors clearly thought we would all fit in with the student body. After my freshman year and as sophomore year progressed, I began to become more aware of how meaningless conversations became, how ignorant some students really are, and how unwilling everyone is to actually engage each other.
I no longer saw my fellow classmates through rose-colored lenses, especially as politics and the impending 2016 Presidential Election polarized the student body more. What began as people ironically supporting a television personality in his, quite frankly, ridiculous campaign, quickly turned into support for proposals that would surely “Make America great again” by deporting millions of undocumented immigrants who built their lives in the US and barring Muslims from entering the country based on their religious orientation. The GOP debates, which became media spectacles, not only captured our attention, but also created a divide.
While politically there has been an obvious rift among the American citizens with regards to issues like immigration, the global economy, climate change, and terrorist acts carried out by the Daesh and its supporters, these disagreements have only fueled the schism between the marginalized and the privileged. As I’ve said before, every student at Boston College is privileged in a host of ways, and it’s difficult for many, but not all, students here to understand and experience significant societal marginalization first-hand. This does not mean any student on a college campus who belongs to a certain minority should ever feel unsafe or unwanted at their place of education.
I don’t believe in safe spaces on college campuses. A safe space tucked away in a (generally socially aware) professor’s office is exactly the opposite of what students recently demonstrating across the country want to accomplish. Safe spaces are bullshit. College itself should be a safe space. Female students should not have to worry about walking from Lower to Upper or CoRo with the statistic of how one-in-five women on college campuses experience sexual assault during their four years there in the back of their minds. Black students shouldn’t have to worry about being called the N-word walking to class or avoid going to class because of violent threats against them on social media. I and other members of the LGBTQ community shouldn’t have to worry about being at a bar, football game, or party where we’ll get called “faggots.” Disabled students shouldn’t have to take the longest possible way to get to class because the campus is inaccessible and then arrive at a building only to find that the doors are too heavy to open. Safe spaces don’t eliminate these issues, which are legitimate causes for concern.
“Lighten up, Eddie. Just ignore those guys who called you a fag. Who cares?” It’s so easy for anyone who doesn’t understand what it’s like to be a marginalized student on a college campus to say that. It’s easy to say, “’N—-r is just a word. People will be saying that for the rest of your life, so you shouldn’t be surprised every time it happens.” And the dreaded, “Boys will be boys,” is especially damaging to women who feel violated by the behaviors of the men they expect to respect them. We get outraged, but then we’re reminded, “College isn’t a daycare.”
No one asked for our colleges to treat us like we’re toddlers. We didn’t asked to be coddled brats, which is how right-wingers try to label. We want some damn respect for once. We’re sick of being ignored. We’re sick of being told to get over something that makes us feel unwanted at an institution that refuses to address the deep-seated tensions that exist on college campuses and only grow as issues concerning race, gender, sexuality, and even ability come to a head.
College administrators, faculty members, adults and political pundits, and even other students imply that the marginalized students on campus should embrace ideas intended to make us think. Awesome, that’s what college is all about. But when we look at these ideas and voice our frustrations with how problematic some are, we are accused of complaining, whining, and getting offended by everything. We are perceived as being unable to think for ourselves, as if we automatically take offense to headlines, titles, summaries, and synopses. Interestingly enough, these accusations come from the exact same people who frequently walk out of college lectures because of a professor’s “liberal agenda.”
We don’t need safe spaces on college campuses. Resource centers like the Women’s Center, Campus Ministry, University Counseling Services, The Thea Bowman AHANA Center, and the much-needed LGBTQ resource center (that’ll be the day) are not safe spaces. They are integral elements of Boston College that work to the entire university a safe space, not just in their respective offices. Get over the idea that the marginalized students on campuses across the country want safe spaces to quietly discuss our feelings with only each other. We want to be welcomed. We want to be respected. We want to be safe everywhere, and it all starts with meaningful conversation free of labels, assumptions, and stereotypes.