NAU prez rejects 'safe spaces,' students demand resignation

Students at Northern Arizona University are demanding their president step down because she refused to endorse safe spaces at a recent forum.

The NAU Student Action Coalition staged a walkout in response to the remarks, and later issued a statement and held a demonstration demanding that Rita Cheng resign from her role as president.

Students at Northern Arizona University are demanding their president step down because she refused to endorse safe spaces at a recent forum.

During the forum, one student asked President Rita Cheng how she could support safe spaces when she doesn’t “take action in situations of injustice,” citing an incident the previous week “when we had the preacher on campus and he was promoting hate speech against marginalized students.”

Cheng corrected the student, explaining that she doesn’t support safe spaces at all, according to KPNX.

“As a university professor, I’m not sure I have any support at all for safe space,” Cheng asserted. “I think that you as a student have to develop the skills to be successful in this world and that we need to provide you with the opportunity for discourse and debate and dialogue and academic inquiry, and I’m not sure that that is correlated with the notion of safe space as I’ve seen that.”

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The NAU Student Action Coalition was infuriated by Cheng’s response, leading its members in a walkout from the meeting and demanding that Cheng be removed from her position.

The group also released a statement last week claiming that Cheng’s “resignation is necessary” because her forum answers were “insufficient,” describing the forum as a major part of what students pay tuition to experience.

“The NAU community invests a lot of time, money, and energy in this experience and, because of failed leadership, we are not getting a return on our investment,” SAC complained. “President Cheng's answers at the forum were insufficient and if she's not ready or willing to engage in these serious conversations and more importantly work towards solutions, then we do feel her resignation is necessary.”

In her place, the statement demanded “a university president who works to provide the purpose of higher education,” which they parochially contend “is to enrich the lives of many people, students, faculty, staff, and the larger Flagstaff community.”

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SAC students held an additional protest Monday afternoon to respond to the “many micro aggressions,and bigoted actions that's [sic] have taken place on campus and on social media that had threatened the safety and lively hood [sic] of our current student population.”

Students were instructed to assemble wearing all black for a silent march through campus, during which they would be provided with posters depicting “the unacceptable incidents NAU has let slip by” in order to “demand that [the] administration sets in place a clear, concise set of consequences for when these things happen.”

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For her part, Cheng seems wholly uninterested in revising her position on safe spaces or resigning from her post.

“Creating segregated spaces for different groups on our campus only [leads] to misunderstanding, distrust, and [reduces] the opportunity for discussion and engagement and education around diversity,” NAU President for Media Relations Kimberly Ott told KPNX regarding Cheng’s views.

“The President is and has always been willing to meet with representatives of student groups,” Ott continued. “There were hundreds of people at Wednesday’s forum – faculty, staff, and students. The few dozen who left, missed the opportunity to hear the questions of others, including several similar to theirs, and the answers that followed.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @amber_athey