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Trigger Warning: Safe Spaces Are Dangerous

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  • Sticks & Stones or Real Harm?

    PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel, UC Davis law professor Ashutosh Bhagwat, and First Amendment scholar David L. Hudson Jr. discuss whether offensive speech can cause “actual” harm.

  • How Should We Define Safety for Traditionally Marginalized Students?

    Wesleyan University president Michael Roth argues that many students face discrimination and prejudice on campus.

  • Should College Dormitories Be Safe Spaces?

    Moderator John Donvan poses a question: Should college dormitories be safe spaces? Our debaters weigh in.

  • Changing Demographics

    Suzanne Nossel and Michael Roth debate the changing demographics on college campuses and what this means for safe spaces.

  • Student Experience

    Suzanne Nossel, Michael Roth, and David L. Hudson Jr. consider U Chicago graduate Cameron Okeke’s views on – and experiences with – safe spaces.

  • Audience Question: Safe Spaces in the Classroom

    Is the classroom an intellectual safe space? Ashutosh Bhagwat responds.

  • Where’s the Line?

    The panelists discuss how professors should handle classroom discussions on sensitive topics – and what’s out of bounds.

  • Audience Question: Why Students Feel Unsafe

    Should we be paying more attention to reasons why so many students feel unsafe? Ashutosh Bhagwat and David L. Hudson Jr. respond.

  • The Right Not to Listen

    Do students have the right to ignore potentially offensive speech? Our debaters weigh in.

  • Audience Question: Safe Spaces in the ‘Real’ World

    If universities create safe spaces for students, will young people be capable of carving out their own safe spaces in the ‘real’ world? The debaters respond.

Debate Details

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?

The Debaters

For the motion

David L. Hudson Jr.

David L. Hudson Jr.

First Amendment Scholar & Law Professor, Vanderbilt University

David L. Hudson Jr. is a First Amendment expert and law professor at Vanderbilt University. He is the author, co-author, or co-editor of... Read More

Suzanne Nossel

Suzanne Nossel

CEO, PEN America

Suzanne Nossel is a leading voice on free expression issues in the U.S. and globally. She is CEO of PEN America, the leading human rights and... Read More

Against the motion

Ashutosh Bhagwat

Ashutosh Bhagwat

Law Professor, UC Davis

Ashutosh Bhagwat is the Martin Luther King Jr. professor of law at UC Davis and the author of “The Myth of Rights: The Purposes and Limits of Constitutional... Read More

Michael Roth

Michael S. Roth

President, Wesleyan University

Michael S. Roth is the president of Wesleyan University and is known as a historian, curator, author, and public advocate for liberal education. He... Read More

Where Do You Stand?

For The Motion
  • By fostering a campus culture where some ideas are deemed “dangerous,” safe spaces restrict free speech and intellectual diversity by silencing those whose views are unpopular or don’t conform to the status quo.
  • Rather than promoting campus unity, safe spaces isolate like-minded students and divide campuses  around issues of race, gender, and sexuality. Further, they prevent students from different cultural, economic, and intellectual backgrounds from coming together for productive and meaningful exchange of ideas.
  • Trigger warnings and safe spaces infantilize young adults, promote victimhood, and create a learning environment that deprives students of a complete, intellectually balanced education.
Against The Motion
  • Safe spaces promote free speech and free expression. When students have access to supportive and empathetic communities on campus, they are empowered to speak up in class or in other intellectual forums. 
  • Today’s student body is the most culturally and racially diverse in history. Safe spaces offer traditionally marginalized students an opportunity to learn without fear of hate speech, bigotry, racism, or other forms of hostility that too often prevent them from being fully immersed in the academic community. 
  • Trigger warnings and safe spaces foster resilience in students. For victims of PTSD, assault, and other forms of violence, these tools allow them to engage with potentially troubling content in ways that are healthy and productive. 

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  • Live Audience
  • Online Audience
  • Results
  • Breakdown

The Research

The Research

Roots of the ‘Safe Space’ Controversy

Ben Zimmer
November 13, 2015

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

Campuses are breaking apart into ‘safe spaces’

Frank Furedi
May 30, 2018

“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.”

Trigger Warnings and Safe Spaces Are Necessary

Raeann Pickett
May 30, 2018

“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.”

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