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The world is a scary place. Violence is everywhere in the news and we are constantly bombarded with frightening images and details. It can make even the bravest of us want to retreat into cozy shells, knowing that if we stay there, we can avoid the turmoil around us.
As comforting as that may be, is it best to keep hiding from our surroundings? There is a new development on college campuses in this country, where classrooms are being declared “safe spaces” in order to protect students from harmful speech.
A safe space is a place designated for protecting people from hate speech. In these safe spaces, certain rules are in place to ensure that no one gets offended. If the space is for feminists, any person with anti-feminist views may not speak about these views. Most spaces forbid political and religious conversation because of how contentious these topics are. Universities are also instating “trigger warnings” for content that may upset students. These warnings are usually announced before any religious, political or graphic topics are discussed.
With the increasing visibility of the LGBTQ community, these spaces have become especially prominent. The safe zones are seen as a haven for those who feel threatened or insecure. With so many young people being open about their sexual orientation — whatever that may be — there are more opportunities for them to connect. This aspect of safe spaces is good. This group of people is a specific target for hate, and safe spaces have the ability to relieve some of that stress. This can be said for racial issues as well.
It is important that students on campus feel secure when attending a university. It is a turbulent time in one’s life, and everyone is there to pursue a higher education and discover themselves in the process. But college is supposed to be uncomfortable. Being exposed to the outside world is what truly educates students. By obstructing any potentially harmful opinions, students are not going to be well-informed about the world.
A few colleges have realized the negative effect of safe spaces on their campus. Most vocal is the University of Chicago and its policy to encourage freedom of speech all over campus. In the acceptance letter sent to the incoming class of 2020, the school states that while the sheltering of safe spaces and trigger warnings would not be present at the university, “freedom of expression does not mean the freedom to harass or threaten others.”
This move made by that school protects freedom of speech while making sure there is no question about the welfare of its students. Being able to voice one’s opinion is one of the greatest gifts we are given as Americans. Every single one of us deserves to exercise this right. Being hidden from views different from our own will never allow us to grow and change.
College is the time to try new things and to be challenged. It is when students discover who they are. It is vital that students be exposed to opposite views and opinions. Those usually include the difficult topics of politics and religion. Because these subjects dictate most of our lives, they need to be discussed. If we forbid each other from talking about them, our problems will never be resolved.
Politics and religion are two giant topics most people feel strongly about. They are the cause of war and famine. They split families and cause riots in the streets. Perhaps if the young people of this country could pause for one moment and listen to one another, we would all be a bit more forgiving of each other’s views.
College is unique because of how open to ideas people are. As a student, you are encouraged to branch out. Strength and intelligence come from meeting new people and learning new things. Human connections are made in college. Though it may be frustrating at first to hear unpleasant things, it is healthy to be able to overcome personal barriers. Let Democrats and Republicans discuss their opinions. Let Jews, Muslims and Christians speak with transgender students. Great accomplishments never come from comfort zones.
Contact CU Independent Opinion Writer Maris Westrum at Maris.Westrum@colorado.edu.