In my final years of college, safe spaces starting popping up at campuses around the country.
These spaces are designated at colleges and universities when controversial speakers come to town or contentious events are held.
The origins of safe spaces aren’t totally misguided. They seek to avoid triggering traumatic experiences for victims of violent crime such as rape as well as overt racism and bigotry.
Yet, at some point, it seems the safe space concept got out of hand.
These spaces have become more about hiding from reality than avoiding flashbacks of awful events.
A piece from The New York Times reports that one such safe space on a college campus “was equipped with cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies.”
During racial protests at the University of Missouri last year, the group behind the protest deemed part of the public university’s property as its safe space.
When one student-journalist tried to enter, a professor called for muscle.
I saw the concept of safe spaces on my own college campus at Saint Louis University. Only about a dozen miles from Ferguson, the Catholic university became a hotbed for discourse on racial disparity and racism.
A contentious sit-in was held at our university clock tower for six nights in October 2014. This spring, a string of offensive texts between some of the school’s baseball players went public and created controversy on campus.
After the texts went viral, an African-American student leader on campus called for turning one of our campus buildings into a space safe for black students.
The idea hasn’t come to fruition.
I’m glad of that, because I fear that safe spaces only create more division instead of their desired protection. I worry that if black students at SLU had a safe space, it would mean white and black students would interact less.
The goal, after all, is to combat racism and racial misunderstanding.
Such spaces block the chance to have rigorous debate and discussion. Even President Barack Obama has suggested that.
“I don’t agree that you, when you become students at colleges, have to be coddled and protected from different points of view,” he said at a town hall event last year.
I agree with him.
Yes, heavy issues such racism, violent crime and war exist. We need to acknowledge that and work to end them.
However, we also shouldn’t construct safe zones to avoid them. It won’t help solve our problems.
That’s because the world is not a safe space. I’ve long held that belief but five months in Jay County has only heightened that belief.
Things that I’ve helped cover have confirmed my belief.
I’ve covered an attempted robbery and attempted murder at a convenience store in Geneva. Reading the court documents that detailed the incident and injuries was a sobering experience. About a month later, the suspect died of natural causes in jail. That was a sad story to write as well.
In late September, a 4-year-old boy was killed in rural Fort Recovery after sustaining blunt force trauma. The man who was watching him that night has been indicted on multiple charges of murder.
Every time I write about the boy’s death and have to write the nature of his injuries, my stomach churns a bit. To think somebody would hurt a child is sickening.
In addition, I’ve covered multiple car accidents that have involved injuries. Two of them have required the driver to be transferred to medical facilities by helicopter. Last week, I had to track down details on the death of a 32-year-old man that stemmed from a tractor accident.
He leaves behind children as well as a wife. That got to me.
All of these incidents are difficult to cover, but part of being a journalist is being thrust into them.
However, so are you when news outlets report on them. None of us can hide from the realities of life.
Five months in the real world, I’ve learned it’s not a space safe.
It’s time that fact is realized on colleges campus as well.