On Safe Spaces

The University of Chicago has taken unusual action against political correctness, rejecting policies of safe spaces and trigger warnings utilized by so many colleges. The Dean of Students sent a letter to the newly-matriculated class of 2020, stating that the University did not support the use of “so-called trigger warnings” or “condone the creation of intellectual safe spaces.” In doing such, Dean John Ellison demonstrated his commitment to free speech and intellectual diversity, a commitment current university faculty rarely make.

Dean Ellison’s letter is without a doubt a risky move on the part of the administration. In recent years, the administration office has been taken over several times by student activists. Following a series of sit-ins, the University of Chicago has even had to hire a private police force to protect the administration.  In sending this letter to the class of 2020, Dean Ellison made the administration vulnerable to further criticism.

The letter has been met with mixed reviews on campus. 

Several student organizations released statements applauding the letter and the university’s continued commitment to free thought and expression. 

Student activists condemned the letter, claiming that the administration is trying to protect white men from having their feelings hurt in discussion. Others claim that the administration hinders their ability to speak freely by prohibiting safe spaces. 

But safe spaces only burden those who advocate for them; the liberal activists who are the primary proponents of safe spaces are blissfully unaware of the harm they cause themselves by remaining unchallenged. In his letter, Dean Ellison spoke of his commitment to ensuring that students will not be protected from views that differ from their own. “Fostering the free exchange of ideas reinforces a related University priority — building a campus that welcomes people of all backgrounds,” Ellison stated in his letter to the class of 2020. “Diversity of opinion and background is a fundamental strength of our community. The members of our community must have the freedom to espouse and explore a wide range of ideas.”

Demands to be coddled and protected from differing viewpoints prevent college students from strengthening and reaffirming their beliefs. Safe spaces do not provide room for growth; rather, they allow the mind to become stagnant. When a challenge to their beliefs does arise, proponents of safe spaces are completely unprepared. 

In a world chock-full of so-called “microaggressions,” too many students have become simply unable to handle challenges. Their oversensitivity, and readiness to brand anyone who offends them as bigoted, has forced liberal professors to tread lightly in fear of triggering the hypersensitivity of their students. In June, a liberal professor published an article on Vox.com titled, “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” using a pseudonym out of fear of backlash. 

The fact that Dean Ellison of the University of Chicago dared to address the phenomenon of political correctness on college campuses, and to go so far as to reject some of its tenets, is commendable. Dean Ellison demonstrated that the campus culture may be shifting away from the extreme political correctness that has dominated recently. By ensuring the protection to intellectual freedom and diversity on campus, the University of Chicago shows that free thought and expression still live in academia.