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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?View Debate Page
David L. Hudson Jr.
- David L. Hudson Jr.
David Hudson argues, “Many act as though offensive speech should be banned. Whether this is political correctness run amok or an enhanced sensitivity, the First Amendment is harmed in the process.”
David Hudson discusses First Amendment protections on public college and university campuses.
David Hudson argues, “University officials should uphold the principle that even speakers with distasteful viewpoints should be heard and only in rare instances cave in to the heckler’s veto.”
David Hudson argues, “Hardly a day goes by without a free-speech controversy on college and university campuses. An outside speaker is disinvited, a student faces punishment for speech on social media, a campus erupts over offensive speech, or a professor suffers discipline for off-campus expression.”
David Hudson argues, “Places of higher learning seem more interested in ‘safe spaces’ rather than in freedom of expression.”
“Hudson serves as First Amendment ombudsman for the Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center. He is an author, co-author or co-editor of more than 40 books, including ‘Let The Students Speak: A History of the Fight for Free Expression in American Schools.’”
- CEO, PEN America
Suzanne Nossel argues, “There is no perfect paradigm, and some speech will inevitably defy categorization. But in a shrinking world where it is ever more important both to be able to speak freely and to appreciate the subjective impact of speech on others, the concept of hate speech is too malleable to be of help.”
Suzanne Nossel argues, “It's also the case that First Amendment protections and freedom of speech have been essential to every single civil rights and social justice struggle that has been waged in this country, whether it's the battle for women's rights or rights for African-Americans or immigrants' rights.”
Suzanne Nossel argues, “Without free speech, the ‘safe spaces’ students crave will soon suffocate them.”
"...the dialogues, debates, and efforts at greater inclusion on many campuses have the potential to help root out entrenched biases that have impeded the participation of members of marginalized groups. These conversations and controversies can help unleash and amplify new voices that can enrich debates on campus and in wider society, expanding free speech for everyone’s benefit."
Suzanne Nossel argues, “If free speech protections come to be seen as ossified and irrelevant—or even inimical—to the concerns of a rising generation, core freedoms that have been vigilantly guarded throughout American history could be in peril.”
At a forum on free speech at Binghamton University, Suzanne Nossel argues, “Isn’t the point of colleges and universities to encounter all kinds of people and opinions? You’re supposed to find your values tested and to get into some of the best intellectual arguments of your life.”
Suzanne Nossel discusses trigger warnings, safe spaces, and free speech on campus.
“Nossel comes to PEN with deep experience in the public and private sectors and in the human rights arena. She most recently served as the Executive Director of Amnesty International USA, where she led a strategic reorganization to strengthen Amnesty’s external human rights impact and focus on building the next generation of human rights activists.”
- Law Professor, UC Davis
In his book “The Myth of Rights,” Ashutosh Bhagwat argues, “Constitutional rights lie at the heart of American self-identity. We are a free people, goes the story, and it is our constitutional rights which protect that freedom. Appealing as it is, however, this story is woefully incomplete.”
Ashutosh Bhagwat argues, “Regardless of its origins, the notion of a safe space builds on the idea that people develop intellectually and relationally not only from exposure to conflicting ideas but also from the protection of intimate and private settings.”
A profile of UC Davis law professor Ashutosh Bhagwat.
Michael S. Roth
- President, Wesleyan University
In a debate on free speech, Michael Roth argues, “Academic freedom is a professional freedom. It's about research and intellectual work. It's not about saying whatever you want.”
Michael Roth argues, “When confronted with issues of power and inequitable distribution of resources, it’s far too easy to fall back on talk about abstract commitments to freedom and procedures.”
Michael Roth argues, “Just having diverse groups is not enough. We must also devise programs to make these groups more likely to engage with one another, bursting protective bubbles of ideas that lead some campus radicals and free speech absolutists to have in common mostly a commitment to smug self-righteousness.”
Michael Roth argues that Wesleyan is “not interested in bringing in ideologues or shallow provocateurs intent on outraging students and winning the spotlight. We want to welcome scholars with a deep understanding of traditions currently underrepresented on our campus (and on many others) and look forward to the vigorous conversations they will inspire.”
Michael Roth argues, “Our colleges and universities thrive when they cultivate inquiry on the basis of a variety of points of view.”
Michael Roth argues, “These are not “minor” or “micro” issues, and our students know it. They are faced with a world beyond the university that is threatened ecologically, economically and culturally, and they are doing their best to prepare themselves for these challenges.”
“Roth, a historian, graduated from Wesleyan in 1978 and became the university's 16th president in 2007.”
“As the ‘safe space’ rhetoric has spread at colleges and elsewhere, so has the backlash against it.”
“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.”
Meet the most diverse generation in history.
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.”
“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.”
“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.”
Students and activists explain what certain terms, including safe spaces, cultural appropriation, and trigger warnings, mean to them.
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.”
“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?”
“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.”
“Ideological safe spaces make those on the left and the right more extreme.”
“Students shouldn't feel ‘safe’ from ideas with which they disagree. On the contrary, they should feel constantly threatened them.”
In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don't like.
“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.”
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.”
“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.”
5 reasons why students need safe spaces on college campuses.
The president of Northwestern University argues, “We all deserve safe spaces.”
“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.”
“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.”
“Many students just shake their head and try to ignore just how unsafe these spaces already are.”
“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.’”
“A recent scholarly paper on ‘microaggressions’ uses them to chart the ascendance of a new moral code in American life.”
“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.”
“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.”
“Conservative students at the University of California, Berkeley will be allowed to move forward with their lawsuit alleging the school discriminated against conservative speakers.”
“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.”
“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.”
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.”