Judith Shulevitz on the breathtaking inanity of college “safe spaces”

March 22, 2015 • 1:00 pm

I could be accused of being a curmudgeon when I decry the proliferation of “safe spaces” on college campuses (including mine)—spaces designed to protect people from “hate speech” that, broadly construed, means “speech that I don’t like.” When I posted about the Columbia University flyers proclaiming student dorm rooms to be “safer spaces” because they weren’t “oppressive,” I took some flak from those who thought that such spaces were useful.  And, indeed, they could be, but my point was that this kind of thing is growing rapidly on American campuses, and they’re inimical to the idea of college as a place where one learns how to deal with and counter  (or even learn from) speech that seems challenging or repugnant.

So I was pleased to see a younger person—the New Republic editor and writer Judith Shulevitz—echo my sentiments (in a much better and more extended piece) in today’s New York Times: “In college and hiding from scary ideas.” The piece is Recommended Reading from Professor Ceiling Cat™.

Shulevitz starts her piece by describing a “safe space” that puts my teeth on edge: something that Brown University, a hotbed of political correctness, did when students sponsored a debate between two women on the topic of campus sexual assault. One of the debaters, Wendy McElroy, was thought likely to criticize the phrase and idea of “rape culture.” Just that possibility threw the students and administration into a tizzy, for such criticism could be seen as “invalidating people’s experiences” and “damaging.” And so Brown set up a competing talk to confirm that we do indeed live in a rape culture. They also set up a safe space:

The safe space, Ms. Byron [a senior student at Brown] explained, was intended to give people who might find comments “troubling” or “triggering,” a place to recuperate. The room was equipped with cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies, as well as students and staff members trained to deal with trauma. Emma Hall, a junior, rape survivor and “sexual assault peer educator” who helped set up the room and worked in it during the debate, estimates that a couple of dozen people used it. At one point she went to the lecture hall — it was packed — but after a while, she had to return to the safe space. “I was feeling bombarded by a lot of viewpoints that really go against my dearly and closely held beliefs,” Ms. Hall said.

Well, that sounds like an infantilizing gesture to me: really, cookies, bubbles, coloring books, and Play-Doh—the accoutrements of children? But so be it. And, indeed, Shulevitz says that such spaces could be useful, but then goes on to argue, as I do, that the notion has an insidious way of spreading like The Blob, killing off free speech as it goes along:

But the notion that ticklish conversations must be scrubbed clean of controversy has a way of leaking out and spreading. Once you designate some spaces as safe, you imply that the rest are unsafe. It follows that they should be made safer.

Yes, and that’s what’s happening all over America, including at my own university. Shulevitz then recounts a bunch of alarming episodes on campuses that show the extremes of the “safe space” movement. Here are just a few (her words):

  • A year and a half ago, a Hampshire College student group disinvited an Afrofunk band that had been attacked on social media for having too many white musicians; the vitriolic discussion had made students feel “unsafe.”
  • Last fall, the president of Smith College, Kathleen McCartney, apologized for causing students and faculty to be “hurt” when she failed to object to a racial epithet uttered by a fellow panel member at an alumnae event in New York. The offender was the free-speech advocate Wendy Kaminer, who had been arguing against the use of the euphemism “the n-word” when teaching American history or “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” In the uproar that followed, the Student Government Association wrote a letter declaring that “if Smith is unsafe for one student, it is unsafe for all students.”

    “It’s amazing to me that they can’t distinguish between racist speech and speech about racist speech, between racism and discussions of racism,” Ms. Kaminer said in an email.

Shulevitz also criticizes the Columbia University “safer space” initiative. There’s one more episode she recounts in detail, but I’ll save it for last because it’s close to home.

Why is this happening now? Shulevitz floats several theories: students are more cosseted now because college admissions selects for students who avoid risks and challenges (I’m not sure about that idea); that students have “medicalized” their discomfort (citing trauma, triggering, mental illness, and so on) because administrators must respond to such complaints, which cite a “hostile environment”, something the U.S. government explicitly decries; and, finally, the writings of some feminist and anti-racist legal scholars in the 1980s and 1990s which equated uncomfortable speech with psychological injury.  I’d add that there may be a new element of narcissism in there, too, as students increasingly look at college education as a way to get a job rather than make their minds more inquisitive and supple. The growth of “me-ness” may breed students who are solipsistic, resenting assaults on the walls of their egos.

Regardless, the issue is a problem, and one we should guard against. One person’s hate speech is another’s free speech, and colleges, above all, are places to challenge your ideas, not reinforce what you already believe. (That’s what religion is for.)

At the end, Shulevitz gives an anecdote from the University of Chicago, one that caused a big kerfuffle here just a few weeks ago. Here’s her description, and it’s absolutely accurate:

A few weeks ago, Zineb El Rhazoui, a journalist at Charlie Hebdo, spoke at the University of Chicago, protected by the security guards she has traveled with since supporters of the Islamic State issued death threats against her. During the question-and-answer period, a Muslim student stood up to object to the newspaper’s apparent disrespect for Muslims and to express her dislike of the phrase “I am Charlie.”

Ms. El Rhazoui replied, somewhat irritably, “Being Charlie Hebdo means to die because of a drawing,” and not everyone has the guts to do that (although she didn’t use the word guts). She lives under constant threat, Ms. El Rhazoui said. The student answered that she felt threatened, too.

A few days later, a guest editorialist in the student newspaper [JAC: you can see that editorial here] took Ms. El Rhazoui to task. She had failed to ensure “that others felt safe enough to express dissenting opinions.” Ms. El Rhazoui’s “relative position of power,” the writer continued, had granted her a “free pass to make condescending attacks on a member of the university.” In a letter to the editor, the president and the vice president of the University of Chicago French Club, which had sponsored the talk, shot back, saying, “El Rhazoui is an immigrant, a woman, Arab, a human-rights activist who has known exile, and a journalist living in very real fear of death. She was invited to speak precisely because her right to do so is, quite literally, under threat.”

You’d be hard-pressed to avoid the conclusion that the student and her defender had burrowed so deep inside their cocoons, were so overcome by their own fragility, that they couldn’t see that it was Ms. El Rhazoui who was in need of a safer space.

That last sentence is a zinger, and right on the mark. It’s time to stop infantilizing college students. No more Play-Doh, no more cookies—it’s time to put away those childish things. College students are adults; they’ll soon enter a rough-and-tumble world. What better way to prepare for that world than learning to deal with those whose ideas discomfit you?

h/t: Merilee, Greg Mayer


152 thoughts on “Judith Shulevitz on the breathtaking inanity of college “safe spaces”

  1. All I’ve got to say is that I wholeheartedly agree with Jerry and Ms Shulevitz on this.

    I heard a couple of days ago about a kindergarten for adults in New York. These people pay $1,000 to be children again – finger-painting, nap time, snack time, play doh and all the rest like they were pre-schoolers again. Too much money, not enough brain.

    1. One trendy thing here in the UK is colouring books for adults. Pretty designs, nothing too challenging. Our local Waterstones shelves them under ‘Mindfulness’.

      Money for old rope. Might try publishing some myself.

      1. I actually like the colouring book idea because I like to colour things sometimes. It helps me think.

        1. I sometimes colour stuff too, make Lego models, and other stuff some people consider childish. Having fun with my nieces and nephews is wonderful, and parents do it all the time with their kids, which is great for all concerned.

          However, kindergartens for adults, which they attend as regularly as a child? Attending an institution which is designed to challenge you mentally then refusing to be challenged? And if you know a particular debate is going to be too much for you because, for example, it will revive memories of a sexual attack, perhaps you shouldn’t attend until you are ready. It’s really not any different from having sex too soon after a heart attack. You take time to heal, and some people take longer than others, for whatever reason or reasons. We have to take responsibility for ourselves too.

          I can’t expect everyone on the planet to stop smoking because I don’t like the smell.

          1. Well said, all of it.

            Any narrow interest or hobby, whether Lego or calligraphy or catching trains (that’s one of mine!) can be construed by outsiders as ‘childish’. But I think you and Diana have hit the nail on the head when you make the distinction that if it engages one mentally then it isn’t ‘childish’. Kindergartens for adults wherein they, presumably, deliberately act as if they have a mental age of five – that’s unbelievably childish.

            And we can’t expect the rest of the world to shackle itself to accommodate our personal phobias.

      2. What amazes me is how people find and/or why they make time for this? My days are never long enough to do all the interesting stuff I like to do–read, bird, visit the websites I like, read, walk the d*gs, play with the cats, read, etc.

        Do some people have so little imagination they can’t amuse themselves?

        1. I try to occasionally remind students/youngsters that NOW is the time to identify/develop that bundle of skills empowering them to entertain themselves once they reach adulthood, when there will be no adults around at their beck and call to drop whatever they’re doing at a moment’s notice. Otherwise, when they’re grown and enter their domiciles at the end of the day and call out to the Universe, “I’m bored!”, they’ll be met with silence.

    2. I occasionally contemplate paying some nominal amount of money for an enclosure to avoid hearing others cellphone conversations. Back in in the day there were enclosed pay phone cubicles, cutting out surrounding noise.

      My first naïve thought is that cellphone users would appreciate such an enclosure. But it appears to require too much effort to move there; perhaps that is to be left for his/her unwilling audience to do.

  2. You’d be hard-pressed to avoid the conclusion that the student and her defender had burrowed so deep inside their cocoons, were so overcome by their own fragility, that they couldn’t see…

    Bullshit. You’d be hard-pressed to avoid the conclusion that the student and her defenders had learned that they could use ridiculous arguments to force those with whom they disagree to STFU.
    Everybody wants to shut up their opponents; these students have just been given the ability to accomplish it.

    1. I have to agree. In my experience SJWs are cynical and manipulative in the extreme. University administrations are being played for fools, a role they seem born to.

      1. It’s the old “customer satisfaction” thang. (And the psychology of “nagging,” by children, a subject of academic study and commercial exploitation, per Chomsky).

    2. I’m going to guess that there are 3 groups here: students who have been overcome by their own sense of fragility; students who are gaming the system to shut up their opponents; and students who are somehow managing to do both with no sense of irony or contradiction.

      I’m cynical enough to put my money on that last group being the largest — but I don’t know.

      1. I agree. I think a lot will think they’re really doing the Right Thing. They’ll consider they’re just being supportive.

    3. I actually like hearing arguments from those that I disagree with.

      Last year, many SJWs were super super angry with The Friendly Atheist at Patheos because he had the temerity to invite a representative of Secular Pro-Life Perspectives to explain how one can be both atheist and anti-abortion.

      I thought that it was a great idea, and that it would give those of us who are pro-choice a chance to hear some new arguments, and hopefully quash them.

      I was in the minority, as the SJWs just wanted the entire thing to go away, and they accused TFA of being a terribad person for allowing this discussion to take place at all.

  3. Thank you, Prof – well said. Somebody ought to make a movie, sort of a sharp Portlandia, about PC-ness and its intellectual softness and its dangers.

  4. I had always considered myself to be fairly sensitive, but perhaps I am mistaken. The safe room set up for the Brown U debate sounds so ridiculously infantilizing I have trouble believing it is not satire. To my mind you couldn’t possible come up with a better way of ridiculing the “safe space” movement than the description of that safe space room.

    In the same vein I would be hard pressed to think of a way that I could be more insulting, less considerate of their dignity and less helpful to them than to treat someone who is distressed by having their strongly held beliefs challenged, or by hearing something that offends them, than by setting up a room like that and suggesting they use it. Nursery school through 2nd grade, maybe. But I had more respect for, and higher expectations of, my children even at those ages.

    This “I have a right to not be offended” mentality behind this “safe space” movement stinks to high heaven.

    1. I had always considered myself to be fairly sensitive, but perhaps I am mistaken.

      I don’t think this is primarily about sensitivity, I think it’s about controlling a narrative (gods how I now hate that word) and shutting down speech.

      “OMG, look! This speech was so hurtful to some attendees that we had to set up a special safe space.”

      It’s a set, with props. And now it’s time for Ideology Theater kids, so listen, believe, and shut up.

    2. I was at university a decade ago but this strange world of euphemistic language and political power-plays, illiberal liberals and now safe rooms that allow brittle young thinkers to retreat into an extremely creepy makeshift womb…it’s like a parallel universe, cut off from reality as it actually is. Why not just drop out entirely and hook yourself up to an IV drip for three years?

      Like you said, this could’ve been invented by a Breitbart satirist to ridicule the student left.

      1. “. . . an extremely creepy makeshift womb . . .”

        Nicely phrased. Creepy is just what I was thinking. Like some kind of 1984ish dystopic story where the government is behind it all, using it as a means of controlling the students.

      2. Like you said, this could’ve been invented by a Breitbart satirist to ridicule the student left.

        And that needs to be communicated, forcefully, to the faculty and administrators who feel compelled to sanction this crap.

        1. “And that needs to be communicated, forcefully, to the faculty and administrators who feel compelled to sanction this crap.”

          Little did they know a generation ago that they would be put upon to act the high-octane baby sitter.

  5. Christina H. Sommers of the AEI* has been commenting on this trend a quite a bit as well through Tw***er, videos, and articles. I recommend checking it out.

    * I know *gasp* but this is what it’s come to in dealing with a subset of the left who are most certainly not liberals.

  6. “College”. When I was young, we used that word to describe a place that recent high school graduates (mostly) went to to continue their educations. The educating happened both in and out of classrooms. I learned a lot at “college”.

    But people seem to use that word now to refer to something completely different. And learning doesn’t seem to be part of it any more. Very strange.

    1. Apparently part of the “college experience,” and selecting a college with “the right fit,” involves the college’s ability to “entertain” and otherwise protect the student from her/his low boredom threshold.

  7. It is an aweful aweful thing. More and more people are finding ways of avoiding challenges to there ideas.
    This notion of safe space is, a least in part, a tactic, to make certain dogmatic theories immune from critisism.
    There seems to be more fragile, precious people around ready and willing to fall for this nonsense these days but at least some are fighting back.

  8. The event with Zineb El Rhazoui discussed in the article can be found here, with the question in question starting around 1:22:00

  9. It is hard to imagine what has gone wrong with this American College system that has let it come to this. I guess back when I turned 18.5 years old and was just out of high school and the govt. was sending out millions of draft notices with invitations to Vietnam and other fun places, if only we had gone to Brown and asked for a safe room.

    1. It’s simple, actually. Higher education in the US has been turned into a business. And because it needs to make a “profit”, university and college administrations need to be sure that it doesn’t offend its consumers. Consumers as in parents as well as students.

      Sometimes I feel ashamed of my generation, the students who graduated during the 60s. There was a lot of promise in that generation that was never realized. How did we raise a generation of adults whose children’s values are totally opposite of ours?

  10. But the notion that ticklish conversations must be scrubbed clean of controversy has a way of leaking out and spreading. Once you designate some spaces as safe, you imply that the rest are unsafe. It follows that they should be made safer.

    Since there are indeed cases when it makes sense to use “safe space” protections, I think it’s very wise and very powerful to make sure that this is first granted before the main argument is made. Otherwise it’s too easy for critics to make a Straw Man or simply misunderstand the argument.

    Wendy Kaminer and other former board members of the ACLU (like Nat Hentoff, who wrote Free Speech for Me But Not For Thee) have been complaining about the suppression of speech coming from the Left for quite a while. Back in the 90’s I loved her book I’m Dysfunctional, You’re Dysfunctional: The Recovery Movement and Other Self-Help Fashions. Even then, she expressed concern over the mentality of fragility creeping into places where we need to be bold and unafraid.

    1. It is often making the right sound like the grownups in the room too, which is scary and dangerous. Fox has several times shown examples of where their reporters haven’t been welcome simply because of the organisations they work for, and college campuses are most often the the ones shutting them out. They’re tripping over themselves to give the right arguments to use against them.

  11. Are we sure that this is genuine? It’s all so on the nose and ridiculous I really wonder. “Frolicking puppies”??

    1. Yeah, I’ve never been to Brown, but the “safe rooms” I’ve seen on the campuses I have been to have been mostly just been rooms with bean-bag chairs and light jazz for people who want to unwind after a long day of class. My experience with people complaining about SJWs is that they’re mostly the ones who are used to having the spotlight and don’t want to share it with other people.

  12. Well you will be unhappy to know that it is also in Canada’s largest city:

    In Toronto at Ryerson University, there is a recent case where two white students were not allowed to enter a safe space for “racialized” people, because they answered “no” when questioned if they had ever been racialized or marginalized because of their race (or some such silly question). Oh the irony!!

    The funniest word above that is not a word is “racialized”. Microsoft Word and this website spell-check highlight it and suggest “radicalized.” Oh the irony again!

    Copy-paste Google:


    1. Haha! They should have returned after 30 seconds and cited their interaction in trying to enter the safe space 30 seconds previous!

        1. Yeah. “She asked them if they had been marginalized or racialized, and when they both responded ‘no,’ that’s when she said the meeting was only for those who felt they had been”…

          Correct answer: “We have now.”

  13. That last bit about the speaker from Charlie Hebdo is classic me-ness. This student actually thought she was just as “unsafe” as this writer! She really, really thought she suffered just as much, and she was outraged by it. This is complete self absorption! There is nothing but me and my feelings and if you hurt my feelings, you are a bad person because I’m suffering!


    1. What really happened is the speaker was a quicker thinker on her feet than the student. Several hours later the student thought of something she could’ve said (which actually would’ve made her look even stupider, so she’s lucky she didn’t). At the time she went away feeling embarrassed, and wanted to get back at the speaker, who she blamed.

      This isn’t explained very clearly, but I’m sure you all know what I mean.

      1. Oh, and I’m agreeing with Diana too, just expanding on the me-ness theme. She thinks everyone will remember forever because she’s so important etc.

    2. I had a horrible experience with a precious SJW two days ago and I am still reeling from the experience.

      Basically, I made the mistake of saying that I supported such and such marginalized group unequivocally, and that any discrimination against them was wrong.

      Only, I made the mistake of using the wrong word to describe some members of this marginalized group. Now, I was *only* using this very bad werd because a trusted SJW had *ordered* me too, so that I would not offend members of the marginalized group. Not wanting to offend, I then set about using the approved word.

      Well! It turns out that there are sub-groups within this marginalized group, and the sub-groups are even *more* marginalized than the group at large. So, basically, I was viciously attacked, accused of being a fake ally, of being -phobic, and of just being a horrible person all around. I replied and explained that I was using the word *only* because I had been told to, and that any offense intended was purely unintentional. My only complaint was that I felt the vicious attack was unwarranted, as I was only trying to do the right thing. This person told me that I had no right to have hurt feelings from the whole incident, because she was speaking up for the marginalized, and that my words were deeply hurtful, and that there is *NO* excuse for such behaviour. *Intent isn’t magic*.

      This person finally told me that I could have avoided all of this if I had simply ‘done my research’ and ‘learned to think for myself’. The only issue is, this particular marginalized group doesn’t want anyone who isn’t similarly marginalized to think for themselves, or to even discuss it, because we don’t know what it’s like to be marginalized. We are ordered to STFU and listen.

      So yeah. Nice Catch-22 there. Damned no matter *what* you do.

      1. too = to

        /me thinks of the apostrophe thread

        Apologies if I offended anyone by using the wrong word.


        1. “Nuts” is ableist you terribad person you!

          I usually play reductio ad absurdum with them. It usually makes them really angry and they put me on ignore because I have caused them too much cognitive dissonance.

          There once was a heated debate on a well known SJW blog about whether or not ‘stupid’ was ableist. See, ‘dumb’ is ableist, because some people are just born that way. Stupid is *also* ableist, because it implies that not being smart = a bad thing.

          So basically, you can’t even try to find a nice way of saying ‘not smart’ because the very thought itself,that ‘not smart’ exists, is ableist.

          Of course, they let their in-group buddies get away with ableist, sexist and homophobic ‘oopsies’ all the time. However, if they run out of out-groupers to abuse, they will turn on each other.

          Richard Dawkins links to a funny MAD TV video which presents life through the eyes of SJW’s and oddly enough, is just like my experience this past week:


      2. Sounds like someone I used to be friends with. 🙂 “Used to” is the important take away as I had enough of the “me” and the outrage.

        1. http://charjynx.tumblr.com/post/107290810904/i-think-being-a-sjw-is-a-lot-like-being-emo-scene

          Anonymous asked: I think being a SJW is a lot like being emo/scene. It’s just a phase teenagers (and some young adults) go through to appear rebellious and subversive, and then later in life it becomes an embarrassing thing of the past that everyone collectively agrees not to mention.


          Except Scene and Emo kids are a hell of a lot less damaging than SJWs are.



          It’s about a lot of things.


          They have simply taken guilt tripping to extreme levels.


          1. I agree that the Cleese quote is wonderful – and would add that people on both sides of any issue should heed its message.

      3. These people don’t sound in the slightest bit interested in diminishing discrimination – they just pulled a squalid little moral power play on you, and for all their posturing most of their vicious jostling for the ethical high-ground is entirely unconnected with the daily grind of actual, real world discrimination and prejudice.

        Trying to speak to these people on their home turf is like walking into a cathedral full of joyless, quivering, silent puritans, all of them aching to chuck you out for talking too loud. You at least tried, which is more than they deserved.

        1. Trying to speak to these people on their home turf is like walking into a cathedral full of joyless, quivering, silent puritans, all of them aching to chuck you out for talking too loud. You at least tried, which is more than they deserved.


          They came to *my* turf. A site that I have been commenting on for 2 years. And they admonished me, for daring to be inclusive, instead of either 1) showing indifference 2) telling them off


          I did spend the weekend reading another SJW site, one that PCC has referenced in the past. The subject of discussion was whether or not it is acceptable to berate and bully people who disagree or simply show naivete. One poster commented that she didn’t care to change hearts or minds through reasoned discussion – she was here to protect the marginalized from further harm.

          Here’s a riddle. How can one protect the marginalized from ‘further harm’ by going out and rudely insulting, bullying and attacking people who are on the fence and/or naive allies?

          1. Apologies. That’s even more obnoxious.

            You may be engaging with these people, but you’re also oppressing them by only conversing using the colonialist, white male paradigm of rational argument. You’re also undermining equality, human rights and tolerance by standing up for privileged, racist, liberal-west values like equality, human rights and…etc., you get the drift. It’s like stepping through the looking glass.

            I think what you described reminded me of a surreal link someone left in the comments a while back. I can’t remember Jerry’s post, possibly something like this one, but the commenter linked to a back and forth over at the Pharyngula forum(?) in which he, as a first-timer there, said it was nice to be able to talk to intelligent people. He was then, just like you, set upon, in this case for being ‘able-ist’ – his crime was using the word ‘intelligent’. Apparently this is discriminatory against people who are massively thick. He proceeded to apologise(very politely) for his insensitivity but was essentially hounded out regardless.

            It doesn’t matter how polite and reasonable you are if the very structure of rational debate is deemed to be itself morally dubious and societally elitist.

            I genuinely admire real SJWs – the Irshad Manjis of this world, people who actually do things in the real world rather than endlessly swim in one another’s wake in shark-pool forums. And there are people on the left who haven’t succumbed to all this. But there seem to be fewer and fewer of them, and they don’t make many friends amongst the majority.

            It sounds like you were engaging with them as reasonably as possible, and they sound particularly charmless. You showed them more respect than they deserved and you come out of it a lot better than they do. But it’s an ugly feeling to be turned on in such an inexplicably total way.

            1. I followed that back-and-forth. The poor guy (I’m making all sorts of prejudicial assumptions there of course) really tried to placate the ravening mob, for quite a long time. Showed about 1000% more patience than I would have had. Reading the exchange I really wished he’d just apologised for ever calling anyone on that site ‘intelligent’ and gone away…

  14. “…the writings of some feminist and anti-racist legal scholars in the 1980s and 1990s which equated uncomfortable speech with psychological injury.”

    Ironically, the use of uncomfortable language was precisely how social advances were accomplished regarding gender equality and race relations.

  15. An excellent assessment of this matter. But I do think that there is a rape culture in some circumstances.

      1. I’m going to ask a very stupid question.

        Why is one crime, that is almost universally despised, allegedly our “culture”, and all other crimes, even ones which are not taken seriously, are not?

        I can’t help but suspect SJWs of exploiting the horror of rape to proclaim a privileged position of freedom from criticism.

        For example, there are plenty of horrible things in life that could potentially have “trigger” warnings, but no one cares about those victims. But then, trigger warnings, as used, are merely bumper stickers and flag waving for the cause.

  16. I’m guessing this is a crowd that knows the “The World According to Garp” – and the absurdities that John Irving ridicules therein. Remember the Ellen Jamesians?

  17. Meanwhile, Maryam Namazie, planning to give a talk on “Apostasy and the Rise of Islamism” finds herself subjected to “special conditions” at the last moment by Dublin’s Trinity College–

    I’ve just been informed, however, that college security (why security?) has claimed that the event would show the college is “one-sided” and would be “antagonising” to “Muslim students”; they threatened to cancel my talk. After further consultation with college management, they have decided to “allow” the event to go ahead with the following conditions:
    * All attendants of the event must be 1) Trinity students and 2) members of the society hosting the talk.
    * For “balance”, they require that a moderator host the event; Prof. Andrew Pierce of the Irish School of Ecumenics has kindly agreed to do so.
    I, however, will not be submitting to any conditions, particularly since such conditions are not usually placed on other speakers.


    Ultimately, she has refused to speak.

    Why are ex-Muslims being treated like this? It’s pure bigotry, as well as bigotry in assuming that “Muslims” will be “antagonised”.

    (More information here.)

    1. This is disgusting, and is happening too often. We are censoring ourselves out of fear of the potential for Islamists to take exception and react violently.

      It is not us who should be the ones changing. We all have to learn that others have the right to disagree with us and question us in the public arena. No one has the right to NOT be offended. And if your faith is so weak it can’t handle being challenged, that really is your own problem, not anyone else’s.

    2. That’s absolutely ridiculous. Maryam Namazie’s one gutsy woman – the way practising Muslims who go off-message are treated is bad enough but the way apostates are treated is beyond belief. Minorities within a minority, standing up for liberalism, and many liberals have just hung them out to dry.

      Search YouTube for last week’s The Big Questions(it’s under ‘do British Muslims have a problem with apostates?’) for a seriously raw insight into attitudes on this. If you do watch it remember this – these Muslims are mainstream spokespeople for the apparently moderate majority. Also note the poisonous heckling that the brave apostate had to put up with from Muslims simply, in some cases, for opening her mouth. Anyway, if TBQ wanted an answer to their question they certainly got it.

      Jerry rightly highlighted BBC dishonesty a few days ago – well The Big Questions is evidence that sometimes the BBC does deal with religion honestly, and it does sometimes challenge comfortable, lazy thinking.

  18. We cannot even discuss Huckleberry Finn without using the language in the book. Its moral core is Huck’s decision to help the man he calls “Nigger Jim” escape, even though the religion-based morality he had been taught leads him to believe that this is theft and that he will be damned in Hell for it.

    Is it safe for me to use the words “damned” and “hell”?

    1. Only if you don’t mind being damned to hell. Personally, I expect the company there to much more interesting than the alternative.

  19. Is this the backlash from loving your child too much? It’s often been said that children ‘nowadays’ (going back a couple decades) are overindulged, over protected and controlled. Now these children are of college age. Perhaps the crows have come home to roost.

  20. I think this is related enough to be posted here.

    Todd Gitlin, a professor of journalism at Columbia, wrote a thoughtful essay on “trigger warnings” and the craziness that is part of that territory these days.”

    In summary, he writes, “Deal with it. You’re at school to be disturbed.”

    It was published in Tablet and is titled “Please be Disturbed: Triggering can be Good for You, Kids.”

              1. I’m just disappointed they don’t do that. It was such a lovely picture.

      1. It’s a great example of how a myth can have more value than the literal fact. It’s obviously not literally true. No animal can survive by hiding it’s head while leaving it’s body in plain view but the idea of doing it is a powerful, graphic lesson which we can apply widely to our lives.

        My guess is it has such great traction is that as very young children we go though a phase when we learn to distinguish between seeing danger and sensing it in a deeper way. Before that stage, covering your eyes with your hands can make the feeling go away. It’s not so easy for an experienced adult who knows the trajectory of the danger.

        It’s easy to use the figure of speech when you’re talking about fairly immanent danger but it takes serious foresight and engagement to face up to a long-term one such global warming or an ideological approach such as communism or capitalism or the one under discussion here. Notice how a lot of the discussion is geared at where that thinking leads.

        People who take myths or any figure of speech literally tend to empty it of it’s real value and make it absurd. This is one of the reasons modern fundamentalists are so ridiculous – to the point where the lesson is also lost on them. The story of Noah’s ark is a great example. There are fundamentalists who are so bent on defending a literal ark that they can’t see the value of the narrative in a time where we face our own demise due to our excesses. At the same time we need to cut population and development and build a sort of ark in the form of wildlife sanctuaries and corridors to stem the rampant rate of extinction. Don’t expect a fundamentalist to be at the forefront of such a movement. He’d rather bury his head in the building of a replica of the mythical ark.

  21. What today’s Social Justice Warriors forget — or more likely never knew — is that the egalitarian causes the claim to be so enamored of have a place in public discourse only because bold souls who went before were willing to risk safety (often including life and limb) for freedom. They should watch films of the march across the Edmund-Pettus Bridge before clamoring for “safe spaces.”

    It’s just a matter of time before this thing gets turned around on them. After all, people at the top of the power structure have feelings, too. Aren’t they entitled to have people prevented from invalidating their experiences? (And, being at the top of the power structure, they have the juice to bring down the enforcement hammer.) How long before the neo-confederates demand that films of the Selma-Montgomery march be removed from campus libraries because that they tend to efface their Southern heritage?

    I fear we are in for a new era of lèse-majesté, where it is a crime to insult one’s betters. (For a look at the relict old era of lèse-majesté, see what’s going on now with the “royals” in Thailand.)

    Cossetted in their soundproof campus housing, gazing at the safe-zone flyers posted proudly on their walls, today’s students will hear nothing as the last protestor is shackled and dragged from the street outside.

    O tempora! O mores! Mister, we could use a man like George Orwell again.

    1. Exactly. You can’t use free speech like a disposable camera and throw it away when you don’t need it. It’s just like secularism – it’s a bulwark against a return to the days when progressives really did need it – the long centuries when conservatism and religion marched in lockstep and saying what you thought made bad people hurt you with spikes.

    1. I was surprised thst there was a trigger warning in the online genetics course which I just finished taking from Duke( taught by Jerry’s wonderful former student Mohamed Noor). Right before a not-very-close-up slide showing a bunch of bodies from a Nazi death camp ( in a section on eugenics) there was a pause in the video and a warning that something possibly disturbing was coming up. Having visited both Auschwitz and Mathausen, I know how horrific these images are, but people, these things need to be seen! I’m assuming that this was not a decision made by Prof. Noor, but one more likely forced onto him by the powers that be.

  22. It’s part of the same Zeitgeist that also gave us the social justice warriors – a particular mindset or ideology similar to the postmodern rubbish of the 1990s, but weaponized. As it turns out, the “safe spaces” are just a part of a multi-pronged strategy to shield ideological beliefs from criticism (pomo infused “intersectionality” drivel and academese removed from any reality). They are the fortress, from where they swarm out to combat the ideological impure, and where they show an impressive “take no prisoners” approach.

    Those people have discarded the notion of arguing in good faith, and if possible try to avoid any argument by “no-platforming” everyone else beforehand. The ideology works with “listen and believe” or “shut up and listen” and similar phrases that say straight away that there is nothing to argue about. This achieved with what’s called “Motte-And-Bailey” rhetorics: switch out terms when under criticism, and thereby strawman what other people are saying (you know, no valid criticism exits, it’s not fathomable where other people are coming from, they’re just harassers who want to sin hate women/minorities/kittens). For example, someone might criticize the notion of “rape culture” in some particular way. The SJW will then portray the argument as claiming the other person was denying that rape exists, or that rape is a terrible crime or similar trickery.

    If such people are somehow made to engage, they will declare the opponents as harassers, racists, misogynists, and even rapists and thereby persuade well-meaning sheep that the other side is not worth listenting to. This is typically followed by systematic well-poisoning, and other forms of base argumentation tactics which are elevated by those people as good practice.

    This is of course common for the atheist-skeptics movement, where certain blog networks have cultivated such practices without much opposition. Even outright propaganda techniques aren’t debunked, showing everyone that the “skeptics” movement only has the wits to debunk bigfoot as best, but is otherwise worthless.

    SJW brownshirts with their fascistic ideas (undermining the presumption of innocence, control of art and culture, denigrating freedom of speech as “freeze peach” to name three things) are nowadays I dare say “typical” for the US secular movement.

  23. Our high school has safe rooms. Teachers volunteer and label their rooms as a safe room. This is a great idea, especially for kids of this age who can be downright nasty with one another. College? Eh… possibly for some special purposes, but not as a way to shut down discussion.

    1. That’s what I was thinking too. It might be a good idea to have proper psychological support on hand for people who have suffered some kind of emotional trauma but who might want to attend certain talks that might trigger them. It is arguably a safety issue. I’m sure there are services like that at colleges; perhaps they just have to be more readily accessible when there might be a greater need — an open door policy at certain times. The alternative is of course for students to take some responsibility and avoid certain events that might be too stressful for them.

  24. ‘The room was equipped with cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies…’

    What’s wrong, the amniotic-fluid chamber was unavailable? What say, we wind the infantilizing tape all the way back to before the moment of conception? Let the egg disappear up the fallopian tube and the sperm jump back into…well, you know.

  25. ‘… a Hampshire College student group disinvited an Afrofunk band that had been attacked on social media for having too many white musicians…”

    Hey, if the white boys can play, let ’em play. After all, as Pops said, “cats is cats, anywhere.”

    1. Sly Stone must be rolling over in his…white van, or his fancy Malibu digs, or wherever it is that rumor has it Sly is keeping it real these days.

    2. There’s a great DVD out called Muscle Shoals about the great recording studio in tiny-town Alabama where Aretha, Eric, Dylan, jimmy Cliff and many others made great recordings with the “house band” made up of local young white boys. Play that Funky Music, White Boy:-)). ( anyone heard the Chipmunks’ version of that song?? Worth doing once)

  26. Replace “Charlie Hebdo survivor” with “NRA apologist”, after a school shooting, and see this sudden pro-liberty sentiment evaporate. It’s one thing to support boldly speech we are not too offended by, it’s another when it’s coming from the opposite side.

    1. If such a person wants to give a speech, then let them. And then let someone else give a speech, forcefully dismantling that person’s arguments, if they can.

      If I was still in university and learned someone like Ann Coulter was speaking at my school, my reaction would be “huh”, maybe a discussion of why her views are repugnant, or some questions about why my school would be wasting money to bring her in to speak in the first place – not “OH MY GOD WE HAVE TO PUT A STOP TO THIS”.

  27. I think the movie PCU should be required viewing these days. If anyone is looking for a funny anti PC flick from the 90’s, I’d highly recommend it.

  28. When I was a kid, the local MP and some men came to our farm. They rounded up the workers who lived on our farm, singled out three young men who had been active in canvassing for the opposition, and flogged them with bicycle chains while the MP warned our employees not to no vote for anyone but the ruling party.

    When I hear coddled Westerners equating “hate speech” with violence, I think of this episode.

            1. And he was supposed to be the shining beacon decades ago. I recently read a very good, but depressing, book called The Fear about life under Mugabe. Do you still live there?

  29. I went to university to study the grown up versions of Play-Doh and coloring books as an academic pursuit. I can kind of understand the therapeutic value that sort of thing can have.. but the idea of a room full of children’s toys and cookies intended not as a whimsical lounge but as a ‘safe place’? That seems so strange. We had kittens and flowers in anatomy class and that’s still strange.

  30. This is the result of the contrived fearful world out there that mothers in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s felt compelled to shelter their kids from. Kids were no longer allowed to run around in unsupervised play for fear they might be molested or kidnaped or the boogie man might scare them, offering them candy. Where did the fear come from? Republican campaign tactics sure helped. ” Be Afraid, elect Ronald Reagan President and he will put the boogie man in jail”

    1. Not in the 70s. I road my bike wearing the following protective equipment: a bathing suit. I also learned to ride said bike without training wheels and I walked my tiny feet at 3 on long hiking and camping excursions.

      1. ‘rode’

        But good on ya. I was having a conversation today about how ‘health & safety’ has got out of control. Back in the day… if you climbed a tree and fell out, it hurt. These days kids aren’t allowed to climb trees.

        Except… the trigger for the conversation was a ‘walk’ (/swim/scramble) down Pararaha Stream that our hiking group did yesterday, a couple of families came along. This 8-year-old girl was clambering across the rock face just above the stream using holds she could hardly reach. So there is hope…

  31. wow! play-doh and cookies??? This is ridiculous. I blame helicopter parents as much as the culture of whining. How does a person expect to be “safe” when they can’t express themselves honestly?

  32. A safe room with with cookies and videos of frolicking puppies? That doesn’t seem safe at all for diabetics and the people who had been attacked by a dog.

    1. Your right. They really should have several nested safe rooms so folks who freak out looking at the puppies can hide where only kitten films are shown.

    2. Should have read all the comments before I made mine. I was thinking of mentioning diabetes as well, but it’s rare among college students.

  33. I went to college in the 1960s and, as I recall, the goal generally was to grow up, not be coddled. Sometimes we were even challenged to think about the world around us, rather than hide from it under a blanket with cookies and milk.

    1. I was bitten by a dog twice (same incident) but I had stupidly picked up her new puppy. I’ll still go up to any dog anywhere, fearlessly ( maybe stupidly?)

      1. Bitten by the same dog twice – there must be a parable or idiomatic expression in there somewhere. It sort of combines “once bitten, twice shy” and “lightening never strikes the same place twice” with “bad things happen in threes”.

      2. I was bitten by a German shepherd I’d known for years named Tiny, and needed stitches in my hind quarter. It turned out he had cancer. and died not long after. Apparently it had affected his temperament. I’d always loved dogs but after that I’d cross the street to avoid one even if he was on a leash. About 10 years later we decided to get a small dog for the kids, and I finally got over the fear.

        1. Maybe there’s a lesson to be learned about facing your fears, or getting back on the horse, or something in that.

        2. I used to indiscriminately run up to all dogs as a small toddler. My mother couldn’t catch me; I was too short, wiley and fast. She told me recently that she had a fear of dogs but didn’t want to show it because she didn’t want to pass on that fear. She imagined me being eaten every time I ran up to those dogs, some huge Rottweilers.

          My mom was still afraid of dogs when we got one but quickly got over it.

        3. Dottie was a German shorthair who belonged to family friends. I knew her well, but she was extra protective of her pups and bit me in the boob and the stomach when I was in my earlu 20s. A bit scary but not serious. We remained friends afterwards, and surprisingly, didn’t make me fearful of dogs.
          Now certain spiders are another thing altogether…like the one on the tp.

  34. Fortunately, I haven’t seen safe spaces at my university yet. They seem anathema to all the values scientists and universities hold dear.

  35. I just finished reading Book One of “March,” by US Congressman and civil right leader John Lewis, and I can’t help but juxtapose the events and attitudes described therein with those related by Shulevitz. Many of the young women and men taking part in the lunch counter sit-ins and other civil rights activism of the 1960s were university students, and exactly the same age as these precious delicate fluffernutters (TW: reference to peanut-containing potential allergens and marshmallow food-like substance) who require Play-doh and coloring books. The civil rights activists were called vile names, beaten, jailed, spat upon, and threatened in ways that most of us only experience in our worst nightmares. They trained in workshops to respond to this abuse with non-violence, and the horrible treatment they received at the hands of many white Southerners only strengthened their resolve to continue with their activism.

  36. What disturbs me about this (aside from adults needing play-doh to cope with hearing confronting ideas) is that it completely undercuts the goal of eliminating the problems that make people less safe to begin with. I’d much rather have people who can articulate the case of why we need abortion than people who are simply going to try to silence anyone who suggests otherwise. If people are outraged to action but cannot verbalise the case against it,then aren’t we going to be left with the same sort of moralism that fuels the religious right?

  37. This article is answering a question that’s been bugging me for a while now: given the cultural upheaval of the 1960s that rebelled against authority and the standards society imposed, how is it there are so many left-wing authoritarians more than willing to use power to exert their view of morality onto others?

    1. Yes, I sustained that same whiplash. When I was in school everyone wanted to confront. We were excited by controversy and rebelled against our parents docility. What ever happened?

  38. ” “I was feeling bombarded by a lot of viewpoints that really go against my dearly and closely held beliefs,” Ms. Hall said.”

    Wow. Just wow. They want the entire world to be like that. She doesn’t want any viewpoints that go against her dearly and closely held beliefs (sounds familiar) to be expressed, anywhere.

    1. The scary thing for me is that sentence looks like something from The Onion. Or perhaps like a crude straw-man made by an opponent of safe spaces to make them seem infantile.

  39. “The safe space, Ms. Byron [a senior student at Brown] explained, was intended to give people who might find comments “troubling” or “triggering,” a place to recuperate. The room was equipped with cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies”

    When I read that I said ‘fucking Hell’ under my breath. I tend to get unprintable when unbelievable idiocy rears its head.

    IF I was having a mega-bad day and just wanted to get away and settle down for a bit I might well want a calm quiet retreat – but if I found some PC idiot had filled it with Playdoh and puppydogs I would (1) think I’d wandered into the creche by mistake and (2) if someone told me it had been set up for me I would be so pissed off by the implied insult to my maturity I’d walk straight out again in search of somewhere I could recover in non-infantile surroundings. I’d imagine any mature student would do the same.

  40. I teach physics at Western Carolina University, and I have a Safe Zone sticker on my door. At this institution, at least, the meaning is different. From the WCU website: “Our Safe Zone symbol visibly identifies people and places that are ‘safe’ for students, faculty, staff, and community members of all gender and sexual identities. It signifies safety, support, trustworthiness, and affirmation—regardless of sexuality or gender identity. If you choose to become a member, others will know they can come to you for help, advice, or just to talk to someone who is supportive of their gender and/or sexual identity.”

    Just thought I’d point out at these “Safe Spaces” mean different things at different institutions. I certainly strongly support free speech (I’m actually against almost any form of censorship…if it were up to me, people could say f*** or n***** or creat***ist on TV. The only reason I self-censor is for selfish, career-motivated reasons) My office is a Safe Zone, but for ALL students…that even means that if a racist or homophobic student wanted to vent to me, I would talk to them…I would of course disagree with them, and hopefully I would be able to change their minds.

    1. I may be naive, but I would assume all the things that your institution describes as “safe” is the norm until I see otherwise. If you have to put up a sign saying the area is safe, is that not implying that everywhere else is not and therefore one should expect gender discrimination, racism, etc.? Ironically, it seems to me, the “safe space” phenomenon makes one feel very unsafe in most places on campus or at least gives the impression that it is much more unsafe than it probably is.

      1. I think the idea of designated counselors is a good one. The problem is the concept of “safe space”. It is a euphemism, no doubt, but serves to emphasize the spaces where you don’t have to be stressed, instead of the counseling which should be a shot in the arm to allow continuous participation in the wider world. Stressed students should have a place to vent, but perhaps renaming these spaces to something like Campus Counseling Centers would be less problematic.

  41. I’m ok with places where people can go to relax, take part in cultural activites, avoid stress, in infantile fashion if necessary. It doesn’t follow from this that *the whole university* should be such a place, nor does it follow that one should always have to curb speech etc. I also have trouble with “triggering” as a thing to always have to be on one’s toes about.

    SJWs also really tick me off, because the people who seem to be actually doing the work on important things get drowned out and misunderstood as these belligerent sorts – who also may well have important concerns. (This is NOT a tone comment, but a “you’re shouting everyone down”, comment.)

    Related, I seem to remember as an undergraduate explaining that as white heterosexual, cis-gendered, middle class, etc. Anglophone Quebecer, yes, I too had experienced bigotry – in my case for being socially awkward and also, more crucially, for being anglo. Some people found that … unconfortable. Too bad. I don’t play the “victimology” game – victims are real, and we should help them – but not by letting them wallow in their misery, but instead by helping them all of us improve things. Sometimes for all of us – I have always supported gay rights, for example, because I have long realized that a lot of “sexual variations” exist and the LGBT movements were at the forefront of helping us all realize the diversity and harmlessness of same here. (Self-serving *and* not. Who would have thought? :))

    1. And honestly I want the conflict sometimes. I want to hear those weird opinions so I can counter them.

      Once, a friend of mine’s boyfriend was minding his own business walking down the street. Suddenly he was yelled at by a woman Ina “take back the night” walk. She yelled “you are the reason we’re out here!”

      Great. That guy was somewhat sexist and it was out of ignorance that he was that way. We often tried to make him see other perspectives. This person’s remark screwed up all our work.

      Shutting down conversations does the same thing — it just hushes people into continuing on their own without having the opportunity to be exposed to new ideas. Should we not consider these people too in how they feel so we can have a real, open, honest discussion?

  42. I have this vague recollection of a “safe space” being somewhere you could speak your mind honestly, and openly without fear of condemnation or rejection. This is like the bizarro world version where you can’t speak your mind openly, and honestly without being condemned, and rejected.

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