by Lyndsie Cox
"Safe spaces" or "safe zones" are terms often used to represent an area where an individual can go to if they are at any point feeling uncomfortable or unsafe. Typically seen around college campuses, a safe space is used for individuals who have been through emotional trauma. People who have suffered trauma use these spaces in order to recuperate and calm down, after being exposed to different triggers. People can go to safe spaces if they are feeling scared, alone, or anxious about their trauma. In safe spaces, people dealing with these issues may talk with someone or perform various calming exercises. Safe spaces are typically used by the LGBT community and survivors of sexual assault, but they are not limited to those groups. Across the United States, different colleges and universities have varying opinions about safe spaces and their necessity within academia.
Many different schools encourage safe spaces. For example, The University of Arizona has different workshops to teach students how to create a safe zone. Safe spaces on campus at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater have counselors and support systems. Kansas State University uses symbols to represent safe spaces; there are safe space symbols near classrooms and on doors, and people wear the symbol to show that they can direct others to a safe space. According to each of their websites, these universities are just a few of many that clearly support safe spaces and go the extra mile to make each student feel included. These schools emphasize their wish for all students to feel welcomed and included, but also specifically state that they want the LGBT community to feel comfortable.
While there are schools that promote safe spaces, some universities intentionally do not condone them, such as the University of Chicago. A letter sent out to the student body from the dean of students, John Ellison, stated that safe spaces allow students to “retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.” In other words, the University of Chicago believes that safe zones serve students as an escape from ideas and opinions different from their own. Neither does the university encourage trigger warnings for sensitive topics, meaning that they do not give a warning if sensitive topics will be brought up at an event.
Safe zones are extremely important to many people. In an article by the New York Times about safe spaces, students at different universities stated how they felt safe spaces were important because it can be damaging for someone to speak about things that invalidate others’ experiences. The opposing side would argue that safe spaces limit debates and conversations, which are important in challenging students' beliefs.
I spoke to a couple of North Park students regarding safe spaces. Nayohmee Tee (senior), Q&A president, believes college campuses as a whole should be safe spaces, not just one specific place. With that being said, safe spaces should include an adviser that the student(s) can speak to if they do not feel safe. Another North Park student, Allie Young (junior), stated, "If people with trauma need a space to feel comfortable and protected, then why not create a space where people feel safe?"
Safe spaces are not treated equally throughout the country. Even if the universities have strong feelings towards safe spaces, the professors and students have differing opinions affecting the use of safe spaces. Some professors at North Park use their classrooms as safe spaces. If a university is completely welcoming of the idea of safe spaces, there can still be some students that find it completely unnecessary. Many professors here at North Park can help students find or create a safe space to fit their needs. Every student should have the right to feel safe in any environment, no matter the experiences they have gone through or how they identify themselves.