Wesleyan pres defends ‘safe spaces’, claims they can ‘promote intellectual diversity’

  • In a New York Times op-ed, Wesleyan University President Michael S. Roth called upon the higher ed. community to begin “destigmatizing the notion of safe spaces.”
  • The university official claims that the practice is necessary for students to feel “safe enough” to engage in intellectual dialogue.
  • But incidents in recent years show that “safe space” ideology often results in segregation and intolerance for intellectual diversity.

A Connecticut university president is championing an effort to begin “destigmatizing” “safe spaces” on college campuses, claiming that the concept is necessary for “intellectual diversity,” despite growing evidence that, in practice, the concept does just the opposite.

Wesleyan University President Michael S. Roth defended the notion of “safe spaces” on college campuses in a recent New York Times op-ed titled “Don’t Dismiss ‘Safe Spaces’,” characterizing critics of the practice as people who “claim to worry” about preserving free expression at colleges and universities. 

“For different people at different times, safety can mean different things.”   

According to Roth, a “safe space” is “the attempt to make sure all students are made to feel welcome in or outside the classroom.” He concedes that the “coddling of students who feel fragile” is “counterproductive,” but later argues that “for different people at different times, safety can mean different things.”

[RELATED: UMN safe space only for 'same-gender-loving people of color']

Despite acknowledging the risks of “infantilizing students by overprotecting them,” Roth insists that the practice of creating “safe spaces” is still an important and necessary one, arguing that “the outright dismissal of safe spaces can amount to a harmful disregard for the well-being of students.” 

Doing away with the concept altogether “can perpetuate environments where the entitled continue to dominate those around them” and may cause students to “never learn how to build a more equitable, inclusive community,” says Roth, referencing suicide and mental health crises on some college campuses.

Roth calls upon the higher education community to begin “destigmatizing the notion of safe spaces” and to stop treating them “as if they were part of a zero-sum ideological war.” He suggests creating spaces that are “safe enough” in that they “promote a basic sense of inclusion and respect” that enables students “to be open to ideas and perspectives.”

[RELATED: College provides safe space for 'fat-identified' LGBT students]

Roth argues that safe spaces should be used to “promote intellectual diversity in a context in which people can feel safe enough to challenge one another,” but recent history indicates that the concept of “safe spaces” is consistently having the exact opposite effect on campus.

In 2017, a “safe space policy” was cited when members of the Fordham University College Republicans were kicked out of an on-campus coffee shop for wearing MAGA hats.

The same year, students at Clemson University spoke out against a “safe space” portion of a mandatory diversity training. The students called the exercise “divisive” and “misguided,” with one claiming that it “was actually creating an environment whereby people were being asked to speak about things that segregate themselves from others.”

[RELATED: 'Safe Space Committee' works to challenge 'heterosexism']

In 2018, the University of Maryland at College Park was forced to rename a discussion group that was described as a “safe space for White students” who may “sometimes feel uncomfortable and confused before, during, or after interactions with racial and ethnic minorities.” 

After backlash, the university changed the name of the group from “White Awake” to "Anti-Racism and Ally Building Group" and issued a statement acknowledging that the institution “did not choose the right words” and created a perception “counter to the values of inclusiveness and diversity.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @celinedryan



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Celine Ryan
Celine Ryan | Investigative Reporter

Celine Ryan is the Investigative Reporter for Campus Reform, reporting on liberal bias and abuse on campus for Campus Reform. Celine was previously a New Hampshire California Senior Campus Correspondent for Campus Reform.

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