Everyone deserves a safe space

Everyone deserves a safe space

Matt Barbato, Opinion Editor

The University of Chicago may think that it is okay to reject “safe spaces” on their campus, but that should not be the policy at ETHS.

In a letter that was recently sent by the U. of C. administration to the incoming class of 2020, the institution made it clear that they would “not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.”

A safe space is an area, typically on an educational campus, where students can go to feel safe and welcome.

In its simplest form, this could be the place in a high school where a student feels most relaxed and supported by peers with the same interests: perhaps the gymnasium for an athlete, the music room for a band member, or a meeting spot for a member of one of ETHS’ many clubs.

Likewise, students of the same race, ethnicity, gender, or hobby/interest group eating together in the cafeteria may feel most comfortable and safe; a place to “let your hair down” or feel a sense of belonging.

On a more complex level, a safe space can be a haven for a student who feels marginalized and detached from the greater school community.

The U. of C. policy depicts safe spaces as places where students would run to if they feel out of their comfort zone or are afraid to engage in potentially uncomfortable interactions. This suggests that students would be segregating themselves to avoid discomfort or opportunities for growth by being exposed to different points of view.

Recently, the president of Northwestern University, Morton Schapiro, received a lot of attention for a letter he wrote to the Washington Post. He cited experts who told him that students don’t fully embrace uncomfortable learning unless they are first comfortable themselves. “The irony, it seems, is that the best hope we have of creating an inclusive community is to first create spaces where members of each group feel safe.”

Having a sense of belonging — wherever that is — helps people be able to open up and meaningfully exchange ideas in a larger setting such as the classroom.

To be sure, there are plenty of times within the school day that students can and should be integrated as a community and engaging in controversial and uncomfortable conversations. That’s when learning occurs. But school has to provide a balance of both in order to meet students’ social and emotional, as well as academic needs.

Effective learning cannot occur if a student does not first feel welcome and accepted. Feeling physically and emotionally safe are critical components of academic success.