Safe spaces: Where should the line of censorship be drawn?
Are university safe spaces killing intellectual growth?
ALICE DREGER: None of us want a learning environment where we feel threatened. So, for example, I don't want to have to be learning in an environment where there are people with semi-assault rifles around me. I don't want to be learning in an environment where I have somebody who's openly misogynistic and yelling misogynistic slurs at me all the time. So all of us want safe spaces for learning. That's not unusual, it's not a bad thing. The question is: where do we put the borders on that? And in some circumstances in universities we've reached the point where we're so dedicated to the idea of making sure everybody feels absolutely comfortable that we've shut down some people's ability to speak and to think and to go beyond where comfort zones may be, and that's where it becomes a real problem. So it is not the case that universities should be places where you feel comfortable all the time. Intellectually we're supposed to be uncomfortable; that's how we grow. As one of my graduate school professors said to me, "If you haven't changed your mind lately, how do you know it's working?" And I thought that was a really good way to think about it. He said that to me when I was stuck in a particular idea and I wasn't budging and he thought I was being obstinate—and I was—and I started thinking, "Well, maybe changing your mind isn't a bad thing."
But what's happening on a lot of university campuses is the notion you come with your preexisting beliefs about your identity, about the world, and no one is supposed to question that. And I think that's very problematic. For example, people say "Well we don't want right-wing people on campus." I do! I want everybody on campus! I want everybody having the same educational opportunities and I want the opportunity to actually have real conversations about different points of view. Getting them out in the open, airing them, being able to have conversations, arguments, thinking about data, thinking about evidence, thinking about histories of justice—it allows us to have those conversations in a way that I think has integrity and honesty and gets us somewhere.
So if people have the attitude some people are allowed on campus, some people are not, some people are allowed to speak, some people are not, that doesn't really get us forward. Certainly it is the case we should not allow people to openly abuse each other verbally in ways that are profound. So for example, using the N-word, for example, but beyond that I think we have to have a lot of generosity in terms of allowing people to air ideas and giving everybody time to do that so that we can have meaningful education.
So this oversimplification of history, this sort of idea of "everybody is good" or "everybody is evil" as opposed to "there are some people who are kind of nasty but did some useful work, there are some people who are good but did some terrible things."
Trying to inject some of that subtlety and thinking historically, thinking empirically would be a heck of a lot better than doing simplistic identity politics where everybody gets devil horns or an angel's halo, and you account for that based on current ideas of what's a good identity and what's a bad identity. It's not a good way of thinking.
- Why you should want your ideological opposites on campus
- Universities must be safe—but they cannot be censored
- Don't be afraid of being offended. Be afraid of never changing your mind.
NASA astronomer Michelle Thaller is coming back to Big Think to answer YOUR questions! Here's all you need to know to submit your science-related inquiries.
Big Think's amazing audience has responded so well to our videos from NASA astronomer and Assistant Director for Science Communication Michelle Thaller that we couldn't wait to bring her back for more!
And this time, she's ready to tackle any questions you're willing to throw at her, like, "How big is the Universe?", "Am I really made of stars?" or, "How long until Elon Musk starts a colony on Mars?"
All you have to do is submit your questions to the form below, and we'll use them for an upcoming Q+A session with Michelle. You know what to do, Big Thinkers!
If you want to be a better and more passionate communicator, these tips are important.
If you identify as being a socially conscious person in today's age of outrage, you've likely experienced the bewildering sensation when a conversation that was once harmless, suddenly doesn't feel that way anymore. Perhaps you're out for a quick bite with family, friends, or coworkers when the conversation takes a turn. Someone's said something that doesn't sit right with you, and you're unsure of how to respond. Navigating social situations like this is inherently stressful.
Below are five expert-approved tips on how to maintain your cool and effectively communicate.
Calling all big thinkers!
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.