“Safe” “Spaces”

Weighing in on safe spaces: The contents of discussion don’t need to change, it’s the added degree of intention and consciousness around how we frame and agree to interact with them that changes.
What matters most is knowing that people can explore with manageable (e.g. they take responsibility for their actions) or governed (facilitator/professor/institution can choose to adjudicate behavior or adjourn the dialogue) risks, and potentially find support as they and the people they’re with grapple with putting whatever reality they had into context with whatever else happens in the world.
The idea of manageable or governable risk is key:
In a physical “safe space”, like a “gun-free” or demilitarized zone, designed to minimize deaths of innocent people/non-combatants from stray fire during exchanges between lethally armed attackers. This idea was core to the “Peace Zones for Life” initiative in some of Detroit’s East side neighborhoods, and happens to follow the same tactical role that military operators use when securing an area.
We can’t guarantee zero disturbances, it doesn’t quite stop everyone with malicious intentions or halt all acts of terrorism, but it does create clarity in the operational/non-operational environments for those involved and clarity for them to conduct themselves within.
Similarly, a conversational safe space designed to facilitate exchanges with people who carry drastically different views that will be presented in ways that may potentially threaten the beliefs (beliefs, not necessarily their entire existence) of others.
When participants aren’t prepared or practiced in navigating multiple truths and discerning between belief and being, that’s when profound upset might come forward.
1) discerning truth/understanding for what we can agree on or know
2) criticizing/attacking ideas rather than people ad hominem

There are some things a school/classroom can focus on and offer which are rarely available in the rest of the public’s places or even within our private lives–in this case, it’s the opportunity to “safely” engage others with very different views in a low-risk environment.


Safe Spaces: A Student PerspectiveIn my class on Religion and Politics, I deal with the two most sensitive issues in society, religion and politics. I asked students to write a reflection on how they reacted to the class. Here is what one of the students wrote:

“I have a strong faith in and attachment to God and pray regularly; I am also somebody who places a very strong emphasis on the “marketplace of ideas” concept. I want to be exposed to as many different schools ofthought, interpretations, and arguments as possible, because I feel that this is an integral part of obtaining a real education. I don’t want a ‘safe space” in which I can only be subjected to approved, non-offensive ideas that won’t upset any preconceived notions I might have; to me, that is not genuine education, but fraud. I want to read and hear things that startle me, that will make me want to go back and rethink what I had thought before; that is truly an education, and the greatest possible exercise of the mind. Therefore, I was quite pleased to have heard the cautionary remarks made at the beginning of the semester that this course would include things that would make people feel uncomfortable, and potentially offend them.”


 Note on the featured image: I’m using the image seen in the Peace Tactics post again–it was found via facebook uncredited, happy to attribute if anyone can find the link.

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