Safe spaces aren't the answer to racism on college campuses

The recent ascension of so-called “safe spaces” on college campuses in the U.S. has consequently led to a major decline in the intellectual vigor and reputation of college students. This is the natural zenith of the new “PC culture” and has had disturbing legal, ideological and social costs even in the brief window of the past month. The University of Missouri is ground zero for the largest, most visible flare-up in the recent culture war.

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After linking together in the middle of the street, several homecoming protesters took to megaphones in order to “educate” the parade-watchers around them. Of course, the observers didn’t come for pedantics; they came simply to watch the traditional parade. This was the first in a sequence of events that lead to former Mizzou President Tim Wolfe’s eventual resignation.

This format was more than merely inconvenient… It’s just plain ineffective. “Don’t engage! Don’t engage!” screams the camerawoman throughout the protest. Wow, and here I thought these protesters wanted to have some semblance of an open dialogue about race.

Apparently they want to make their stump speeches in the middle of the road during the homecoming parade, but don’t want to be interrupted or engaged themselves. Seems consistent, likely to garner approval and change peoples’ hearts and minds. Mmmmmkay? Mmkay.

Perhaps this clear hypocrisy explains how the same people who claim the right to interrupt the homecoming parade somehow find it unconscionable that a reporter wants to exercise his First Amendment right to document their later protest.

I, and any other member of the media, do not need to accept, respect or regard a sign that reads “No media, safe space.” Seriously? What, so these people have established a sovereign nation within the U.S., where the Constitutional protections afforded to everybody suddenly don’t apply? These areas aren’t a safe space from fascism, to say the very least.

In fact, the only thing these safe spaces are sheltering the children who run them from is the outside world. There apparently needs to be a trigger warning about reporters and handheld cameras now, lest somebody feel offended that the press in this country have a job to do and can record people on public ground. Pathetic.

There is not a singular legitimate reason why protesters should bar journalists from covering the protests. Further still, it is wholly inexcusable for a member of the faculty to threaten and actually assault a student reporter. In fact, every student who laid hands on journalist Tim Tai should have their scholarships and financial aid stripped away — for starters. Last I checked, assault is still a crime in Missouri, safe space sovereignty notwithstanding.

I hope Tai does press charges, because maintaining and reinforcing freedom of the press matters a lot more than the futures of these reactionary, regressive and aggressive protesters. It sets a dangerous precedent if college students and faculty are allowed to physically assault a journalist without any repercussions for their blatantly illegal, unethical and un-American acts.

Nobody cares to hear any more blind, pretentious droning about how the First Amendment creates a hostile and unsafe learning environment while the protesters fail to show reciprocal respect to others who are also exercising their rights well within legal and ethical bounds. It doesn’t make any sense either, considering the fact that the fecal Swastika and the utterance of the N-word — two central incidents of racism in action at Mizzou which have spurred the protests forward — are both classified as speech not protected by the First Amendment, according to the ACLU. But don’t let logic get in the way of shaping a narrative.

These protesters fail to see the forest for the trees, fail to see how their manner of protest will only strengthen opposition to anything they are arguing, no matter how valid their points are. If outsiders thought college students were infantile before, the behavior they’ve been displaying across the nation these past weeks will only strengthen that notion.

Hell, even the annual Halloween costume controversy has also picked up steam this year. The junior class president at Claremont McKenna College was forced to resign because this picture surfaced, showing her and a friend posing in a group, wearing distasteful mariachi attire.

Oh, my bad. She wasn’t the one wearing a sombrero or a mustache, though — she’s the Justin Bieber lookalike in front. I find it impossible to believe that she was forced from her position exclusively for complicity and not activity, but that seems to be the case. Fun fact: You are now a racist by proxy if you don’t disparage your friends on the spot for wearing “offensive” costumes.

Don Lemon lays it down short and sweet: if you want a safe space, don’t leave the house. Honestly, when did being offended become a game of one-upman(woman)ship? If you look at everything through the lens of a victim, you will eventually become victimized by everything that happens around (or, rather, to) you.

It’s time to focus all this pent-up energy fighting the racism that still persists on college campuses and the wider U.S. towards productive forms of protest. Crucifying administration figureheads, alienating the press and shaming innocuous passersby will do nothing to eliminate the root causes of racism in our society. That will take a deliberate, measured approach to achieve, as clearly evidenced by our history.


Reach the columnist at hfinzel@asu.edu or follow @OnlyH_man on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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