Free Speech, Safe Space, and the Briarcliff Bulletin

By Feroze Mohideen

6

In light of the recent student protests at Yale and the University of Missouri, I feel it important to discuss the bigger picture 
in regards to these events and how
 we as Americans and we as writers 
for the paper should consider it.

In case you weren’t aware, this Halloween, the Intercultural Affairs Committee of Yale sent out an email to staff and students asking them to be mindful in their choices of Halloween costumes by being aware that some costumes offend others. A professor replied to the recipients of this email very politely pointing out that it was unfortunate that the University felt it necessary to tell people this and instead, she proposed that people should use their common sense. If people feel offended they should use it to start dialogues with those people about why they feel that way.

Some students were offended by her email, claiming that it ignored student’s wellbeing and defended racist or offensive actions on campus, making it an unsafe space. Demonstrations were held, as well as a few open forums about racism on campus and the experiences of minority students. Similar events have transpired at the University of Missouri, and at both schools, demands for administrative resignations have been made.

In my opinion, these ‘safe spaces’ offer a stark contrast to the intellectual battlegrounds of new ideas, the pacific havens of different ways of thinking, and the imperishable refuges for challenging preconceived notions that colleges and universities are heralded for being in this country. It boggles me that actions like shouting down speakers you don’t agree with, demanding professors be fired for contrarian views, and denying the media free and unfettered access have become commonplaces in these locales, especially considering their reputations for higher thought.

There is no doubt that there are serious issues in both these establishments as well as places around the country; racial problems, equality problems, and wealth disparities run rampant in vocal and silent areas alike. But I firmly believe that these problems will not magically disappear if we don’t talk about them and instead continue to call people with opposing views racists or bigots and shout louder at them until they give up. Ideas and principles are what unite us, not our physical identities. Here at the Bulletin, I would hope that dissenting views are welcome in order to enlarge our spheres of thought and generate solutions to real problems. We should aim to debate ideas, not people. At one time we were worried about the government taking away our free speech; now I worry about us taking it away from ourselves.

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