UC Berkeley housing co-op establishes safe space guidelines
The Berkeley Student Cooperative (BSC) a large student housing cooperative at the University of California Berkeley, serving over 1300 students in 17 houses and 3 apartment buildings, recently established guidelines in order to create a “Safe Space” to protect “Person of Color” and “Gender Queer” student residents from potential discrimination.
The BSC “Safe Space” guidelines give a comprehensive list of 4 rules to prevent uncomfortable discussions and avoid “risks” of offending other students.
"...this will have a chilling effect on free speech."
These principles include asking students to refrain from “project[ing]” opinions without using the pronoun “I” and to “maintain gender neutrality in [their] language” in addition to “inquir[ing] about preferred pronouns.” The guidelines also ask students to refrain from making judgements or “disclaimers,” including self-judgements.
Students are reminded repeatedly to “check [their] assumptions.” An additional list of unsafe activities that are not allowed in the BSC “Safe Space” includes but is not limited to the following:
• “Assumptions about my motives and/or intentions”
• “Expectation to conform; be involved in group think”
• “Using position of power to dominate a situation”
• “Being touched without permission”
• “Problems aren’t brought to group’s attention but discussed in small groups”
• “Passive aggression”
• “Using exclusive language”
• “Unnecessary yelling”
• “Aggressive body language”
• “Loud noises”
• “Very vocal negativity/absolutes”
• “Guilt tripping”
The BSC asks students to put these “tools” to use during board meetings, activist meetings, teacher meetings, group house meetings, personal relationship talks, and discussions with “persons of authority.”
A front desk employee at the BSC told Campus Reform over the phone that the “Safe Space” guidelines are mandatory for student residents, but that it is often difficult to make sure students abide by them.
“There’s no way that we could enforce it although we do try to foster that culture,” she explained.
Azhar Majeed, a spokesperson for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), told Campus Reform he is concerned the BSC’s “Safe Space” policy will limit students’ free expression.
“As a free speech advocate I have concerns that this will have a chilling effect on free speech,” Majeed said. “It will make students watch everything they say more than necessary on a college campus… a student who’s reading this is really going to walk around on eggshells rather than risk offending somebody.”
Majeed said he thinks there is nothing wrong in encouraging students to think about how their speech impacts others, but that a “policy like this just goes to far.”
He added that whether or not the university should get involved “depends on whether this results in any restrictions on students’ speech. I do think the university can better educate how you can balance the different interests involved. As a public university, on second amendment, I think it’s incumbent on the university to enforce free speech rights.”
While the BSC has collaborated financially with UCB in the past, the student co-op is currently considered nonprofit. BSC housing supervisor Betsey Putnam told Campus Reform that Victor Saldivar, BSC cooperative experience manager, is in charge of the co-op’s policies.
Saldivar was unavailable to comment for this article.
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