When I heard the term “safe spaces” for the first time, I immediately thought of my English Honours classroom or the never-ending Debsoc discussions that spilled over into Metro rides and dinners. Those were safe spaces – where you could say the most counter-intuitive, blasphemous, even racist arguments if you wanted to and you would be cut down only through words. And people would consider your point before they tore it down. They were “safe” because you would not be physically or sexually assaulted for your beliefs. They were safe because you didn’t have to fear for your life outside the classroom if you had offended someone. They were “safe” because teachers and peers protected you from ad hominem attacks and unthought stereotypes were taboo (it wasn’t a ground rule, it was taboo because you would be proved wrong through argumentation and everyone would hate you for derailing the discussion). They were safe because you could ENGAGE “safely”.
Here, in Oxford that I saw “safe spaces” as homogenous, self-congratulatory spaces where no one can contradict you or make you see a viewpoint hitherto not engaged with, however despicable. As someone who loved debating in college and believes everyone must learn to debate as a life skill, obviously I rebelled against the notion. But surprisingly, the self-righteousness of safe spaces doesn’t allow people to see that there may be a problem with safe spaces itself. In creating safe spaces, the central point of universities or thought in general has been forgotten – the single verb “ to engage”.