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Safe Spaces Can’t Be Diverse

I’m a fan of the LGBT center on the campus where I teach. It offers a space where gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender students can be among students, faculty, and staff without fear of harassment, bullying, or negative judgment. There, they do not have to worry about passing (pretending to be straight) or covering (having to signal to others that they are still “normal” despite who they are).

But do you know what spaces like this are not? Diverse.

Or rather, they are not diverse in the types of attitudes permitted to exist there. One cannot, say, believe that homosexuality is a sin and feel welcome at an LGBT center. One cannot believe that transgender people are mentally ill and find LGBT centers to be congenial.

This lack of diversity is not wrong; it is by design and has a good purpose. A safe space is one where people with certain identities that don’t fit in elsewhere can find safety through homogeneity and solidarity.

We don’t need to dismiss either ideal to recognize that a space’s safety and its diversity will be inversely related. The more you have of one, the less you must have of the other.

But you can have spaces and contexts that allow for either ideal, or varying degrees of compromise between them — unless activists succeed in their current quest to convert entire universities into safe spaces.

The Yale case is well known by now. Erika Christakis, a lecturer in early child development, voiced concern in an email to Yale students and residence-life folks urging them to rethink the university’s heavy-handed approach to advising students on which Halloween costumes to avoid. Her note ignited controversy and protest on campus — with some e…

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