November 16, 2015

THE SEDUCTIONS OF SAFETY, ON CAMPUS AND BEYOND:

On college campuses, we are having continuing debates about safe spaces. As a teacher, I think carefully about the intellectual space I want to foster in my classroom — a space where debate, dissent and even protest are encouraged. I want to challenge students and be challenged. I don’t want to shape their opinions. I want to shape how they articulate and support those opinions. I do not believe in using trigger warnings because that feels like the unnecessary segregation of students from reality, which is complex and sometimes difficult.

Rather than use trigger warnings, I try to provide students with the context they will need to engage productively in complicated discussions. I consider my classroom a safe space in that students can come as they are, regardless of their identities or sociopolitical affiliations. They can trust that they might become uncomfortable but they won’t be persecuted or judged. They can trust that they will be challenged but they won’t be tormented.

I agree. I sometimes tell my students, jokingly, that “this is a safe space.” But what I make clear is that by safe space, I mean a space where it’s safe to express your opinions and be judged only on how well you support them.

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