What if I told you that the entire world was your safe space?

There is a piece by a well-known New York Times columnist alleging that universities are somehow discriminatory toward conservative views. This is one of the most boring cliches in all of higher ed reporting, not least because it depends on gerrymandering the university: yes, if you cut out economics, business, athletics, and the administration — which is to say, all the most powerful groups at most major universities — then there turns out to be a disproportionate number of Democrats, and that creates social discomfort if someone wants to express Republican views.

For some context, let’s look at what happens at universities that are overtly run by conservatives. I recall a case within the last year where a professor was forced out at Wheaton for making the controversial but arguable theological claim that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. I could name many other similar cases from my former denomination’s higher ed system.

Conservatives may feel uncomfortable talking about how much they love small government at the departmental holiday party, but there’s really no comparison. And if conservatives get tired of the hostile environment in comp lit circles, then I suggest that they practice some self-care and find a “safe place” where their ideas are taken for granted — namely, the entire rest of American society.

The irony, of course, is that conservatives are most opposed to “safe spaces,” but perhaps that’s because they’re so thoroughly ensconsed in “safe spaces” that they don’t even notice them. “Safe spaces” are just the air they breathe. And for that reason, I think campus activists should consider rebranding the “safe spaces” concept.

My suggestion for a new name: “interesting spaces.” It’s not that you can’t handle contradiction or are afraid to hear painful truths — it’s that when you’re dealing with something really important to you, you don’t want to waste your time engaging with someone who feels entitled to pass judgment after 4.3 seconds of half-distracted thought. This is doubly so when we reflect that the compelling ideas that these gadflies are bringing are actually cliches that everyone has heard a million times. If you want to create a space for interesting discourse, you need to do some pruning of tedious, thoughtless ideas. And if you want to participate, you should try to be less boring.

“But I’m not boring!” Yeah, I knew you’d say that. Try again.

4 Responses to “What if I told you that the entire world was your safe space?”

  1. seanchristophercapener Says:

    I said this on a facebook thread but I’ll say it again here: It’s interesting to me that the original NYT article frames the issue in terms of a leftward polarization–characterized by the preponderance of *liberals*–marked by Democratic party affiliation. Marxists (and, one would presume, other forms of anticapitalist left politics) are merely a *species* of liberal, in the article’s analysis. If you don’t accept that there’s something like a political ‘center-line’ running in between the two mainstream political parties, however, the preponderance of DNC politics in certain sectors of the academy looks a lot different. It looks more like the deep investment of academic institutions in a form of centrism that serves their institutional survival–not far right or far left enough to want academic institutions to serve a role fundamentally different than the one they already do. Is that centrism–literally, an attempt at ‘conservation,’ a conservatism–all that surprising?

  2. Jeremy A. Says:

    I would love to read a conceptual/ontological history or genealogy of the concept of “safe.” Is there any such resource?

  3. anon Says:

    @Jeremy
    Frédéric Gros wrote a book called “Le principe sécurité” about a number of different historical conceptions of security: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bHvjjkHgfIo

  4. Racial Mascotry and the Space for “Enlightening Discussions” | Leftcheek deuce Says:

    […] of these arguments are simply dismissed by applying the title of Adam Kotsko’s blog, “What If I Told You that the Whole World Is Your Safe Place?” to the very people complaining about the struggle of these students to find a safe place of […]


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