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Trigger Warning: Safe Spaces Are Dangerous

The BriefGet Up To Speed

Long hailed as bastions of intellectual development and ground zero for the free and spirited exchange of ideas, today’s universities have come under attack by those who argue that a new generation of students and administrators are trading in academia’s most cherished values for political correctness and inclusion. At the heart of this debate is the question of safe spaces, how we define them, and whether they aid or hinder intellectual inquiry. Deeply rooted in social justice movements of the past, these spaces promise a reprieve from bigotry and oppression by allowing today’s students – the most culturally and racially diverse in history – the opportunity to express themselves in an empathetic environment. But to their critics, safe spaces pose a dire threat to free speech and undermine the resilience of a generation. Are safe spaces dangerously coddling young minds? Or are they a legitimate and necessary component of modern education?


“As the ‘safe space’ rhetoric has spread at colleges and elsewhere, so has the backlash against it.”

Friday, November 13, 2015
Ben Zimmer

“Trigger warnings are meant to give people with post-traumatic stress disorder, and others who have experienced trauma, an idea of the content they're about to encounter.”

Monday, September 26, 2016
Lib Nelson
Monday, December 4, 2017
Lib Kane

Students surveyed “widely supported safe spaces for those who feel upset or threatened and free speech zones where protests or partisan proselytizing is explicitly allowed.”

Monday, March 12, 2018
Niraj Chokshi

“The argument goes, young people want to transform campuses into “safe spaces” where offensive speech is banned and political correctness is enforced. There’s just one problem: This narrative is wrong.”

Wednesday, May 30, 2018
Jeffrey Adam Sachs

“It isn’t hard to see why these young people, looking for safety and practicality, now clash so regularly with their elders when controversial ideas arrive on campus.”

Friday, September 1, 2017
Jean M. Twenge

Students and activists explain what certain terms, including safe spaces, cultural appropriation, and trigger warnings, mean to them.

Thursday, May 19, 2016
Teddy Amenabar
For the Motion

“Because of that power imbalance, the authors observe, our colleges have become places where only one vision of social justice is permitted. And once ‘safety’ and ‘sensitivity’ become paramount concerns, academic freedom has to be discarded.”

Wednesday, April 18, 2018
George Leef

“If a college or university should accept the principle of a ‘safe space’ in a single designated room, why should that same principle not extend to the classroom, the lecture hall, dormitories, college newspapers, chat rooms, social media and so on?”

Monday, May 15, 2017
Bret Stephens

“Whereas historically the university freed its members from their cultural baggage to create a community of intellectual individuals, students in the contemporary era are regarded not as individuals in their own right but as the personification of a cultural group.”

Wednesday, May 30, 2018
Frank Furedi

“Ideological safe spaces make those on the left and the right more extreme.”

Wednesday, May 30, 2018
Flemming Rose

“Students shouldn't feel ‘safe’ from ideas with which they disagree. On the contrary, they should feel constantly threatened   them.”

Friday, November 4, 2016
Rob Soave

In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don'€™t like.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015
Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt

“Not only do trigger warnings inhibit free discussion of difficult issues, social science research suggests that they cause more pain and anxiety than they alleviate.”

Thursday, August 25, 2016
Against the Motion

“Being able to make informed decisions about which spaces students chose to enter and not enter is critical in helping them stay well and take control over the information they decide to receive and how to receive it.”

Wednesday, May 30, 2018
Raeann Pickett

“For people in marginalized groups, psychological safety (or what some would call ‘coddling’) and physical safety are closely related and not easy to separate. That's where the concept of safe spaces is rooted in the first place, and that's why the need to have them is so powerful for so many.” 

Thursday, August 25, 2016
Emily Crockett

5 reasons why students need safe spaces on college campuses.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The president of Northwestern University argues, “We all deserve safe spaces.”

Friday, January 15, 2016
Morton Schapiro

“The short of it: Allowing safe spaces doesn’t mean that whole campuses are cordoned off as places devoid of any controversial or challenging ideas.”

Monday, August 29, 2016
German Lopez

“Accusing students of being coddled or institutions of killing academic freedom is an extreme overreaction against those who wish to be valued and respected in class.”

Tuesday, September 13, 2016
Sophie Karasek

“Many students just shake their head and try to ignore just how unsafe these spaces already are.”

Saturday, March 21, 2015
Lily Zheng

“There is another kind of discrimination that is quieter, harder to identify and to address: microaggressions. Harvard psychiatrist Chester Pierce coined the term in 1970 to describe racially charged ‘subtle blows ... delivered incessantly.’”

Wednesday, May 30, 2018
Alia E. Dastagir

“A recent scholarly paper on ‘microaggressions’ uses them to chart the ascendance of a new moral code in American life.”


Friday, September 11, 2015
Conor Friedersdorf
Student Experience

“It’s simple: College campuses, once lively places of debate and controversy, have come under the tyranny of groupthink. In an age defined   diversity, we’ve left no space for differences that go deeper than the skin.”

Friday, September 22, 2017
Bradley Polumbo

“You want me to elevate mediocre conversations about race with my personal experience and critical lens, then you better do something about the students muttering about affirmative action every time I speak.”

Monday, August 29, 2016
Cameron Okeke
Recent Incidents

“Conservative students at the University of California, Berkeley will be allowed to move forward with their lawsuit alleging the school discriminated against conservative speakers.”

Friday, April 27, 2018
Mairead McArdle

“Recent events at the University of California, Berkeley reflect the enormous difficulties that campuses can face when trying to ensure freedom of speech while, at the same time, meeting their duty to ensure an inclusive learning environment and to protect everyone’s safety.”

Wednesday, February 8, 2017
Erwin Chemerinsky and Howard Gillman

“A number of groups at Middlebury were upset   the prospect of Dr. Murray’s appearance and asked the administration to cancel the event. In the spirit of a robust public square, we thought it was important to allow students and others in the community to engage with Dr. Murray about the issues on their minds.”

Friday, June 9, 2017
Laurie L. Patton

The dean of University of Chicago John Ellison wrote in a letter to incoming students that a “defining characteristic of the school is the commitment to freedom of inquiry and expression — and that they should not expect accommodations many students have demanded at campuses across the country.”

Thursday, August 25, 2016
Susan Svrluga