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Safe spaces may prohibit growth on university campuses

Students should embrace real-world experiences and challenges


"The millennial generation is more sensitive than previous generations," columnist Adrienne Dunn said. Illustration published on Sunday, Jan. 28, 2018.

Every generation is plagued with its own stereotypes and dilemmas. Generation Z, anyone born between 1995 and 2012, has earned the reputation of being overly sensitive and easily offended. 

Clubs on campus can provide support for students and can become a major part of a college student's life, and they can also be a great springboard for discussions of any sort. But if these clubs become an echo chamber without a diverse set of opinions, they're no longer an effective place for discussion, becoming more isolated safe spaces.

While students may feel more comfortable with safe spaces and the intentions of safe spaces are admirable, the environments of these spaces can promote exclusivity and fear of generally inclusive campus communities. This can result in a lack of awareness and unpreparedness for the real world. 

The increase in sensitivity of this generation is prevalent on social media and has begun to transfer over to physical locations, including college campuses. An article in Time magazine mentions cases against University of Missouri and Yale University, highlighting demands from students to make campuses safer and more comfortable environments. 

The movement to implement safe spaces on university campuses has received a lot of backlash, particularly on Twitter.

Students need to understand that life on a university campus is different from life in a professional environment. It has been said over and over again that the real world is tough, and students need to be emotionally prepared to handle it.

While it is important for students to feel comfortable on campus, and ensuring a student body's physical and mental safety is crucial to a healthy campus, censorship can halt free speech and perpetuate a culture of victimhood.

The Los Angeles Times published an article discussing a movement known as microaggression, which is when college students who feel victimized by comments from their peers or professors have started speaking out.

"As a psychologist and a professor, my perspective is that as an institution, it's our job as a university to help people get comfortable with conversations about different perspectives and experiences in general," Michelle Shiota, an associate professor of psychology at ASU, said. "Talking it out is better than retreating into a comfort zone."

Students need to understand that throughout life, people are going to have different opinions. A differing opinion does not mean that the opposition is attacking. Everyone grows up in a different environment and is subjected to different experiences that shape who they are as people, meaning that not everyone will have the same world view. 

"I do not (think safe spaces are productive), at least as the term is currently being used on college campuses," Shiota said. "My sense is that 'safe spaces' in current parlance are defined more as spaces where no one will be made uncomfortable." 

Being uncomfortable shouldn't be discouraged, as it can give students valuable experience on how to push through challenging situations.

In addition, to make college campuses a better environment for everyone, students need to understand the importance and benefits of respectful and empathetic conversation regardless of one's own opinion. 

"Learning to interact respectfully and effectively with those whom we disagree, even if they're being jerks, and having the confidence to walk away when needed (is required to be effective in the wider world)," Shiota said.

The diversity of students at ASU is something that should be celebrated, not sanctioned. Students need to utilize the social opportunities that are presented to them at ASU. Having respectful and open-minded discussions will allow for the development of character and communication skills that will be an asset in the future. 

"College is for learning new ideas, engaging with perspectives and beliefs that may be very different from our own," Shiota said, "and developing the critical analysis and communication skills to be effective in the wider world." 

Reach the columnist at or follow @adrienne_dunn 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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