Since many students of color at universities across the country protested the racial climate at their respective schools, their peers, administrators, professors and the general public have engaged in a heated debate about “safe spaces.”
Critics of “safe spaces” have said that they are a weapon against intellectual diversity and the free flow of ideas between people. They have called students who support “safe spaces” coddled, immature and unable to deal with the harsh realities of the “real world.”
But these critiques attack the perception of such spaces without the full understanding of what they truly are. What are considered “safe spaces” are places for members of marginalized communities to escape, just for a while, the microaggressions and discrimination they face on a daily basis. While the phrase has recently been introduced into public discourse, “safe spaces” have always existed. It is only now that the concept has entered academia that critics have seized on the terminology and asked, “Safe from what?”
A “safe space” does not have to bear the name for it to be one — it is what the space does for its community that matters. At Ithaca College, spaces where African, Latino, Asian and Native American student organizations meet — such as the African Latino Society room in West Tower — and the Center for the Study of Race, Culture and Ethnicity have been hospitable spaces for students of color to gather together on a predominantly white campus.
The creation of a physical room in Campus Center called a “multicultural student lounge” is contrary to the organic nature of these other spaces. There are also inconsistencies in how members of the administration are describing this space and who it is intended to serve, with some calling it an ALANA safe space while others emphasize the term “multicultural.” The manner in which the college has taken this measure seems more like an effort to create the appearance of addressing issues of inclusion than to actually address them.
Trying to manufacture a physical “safe space” undermines the value of the community’s current safe spaces and raises more questions than it resolves. Instead, we should question the very behaviors that lead to the need for such spaces in the first place. The injustice is not that “safe spaces” exist for college students but that their college campus cannot be safe for them already.