This archived article was written by: Rodrigo Leon
On Nov. 23, 2015, Oklahoma Wesleyan University president, Everett Piper posted on the university’s website, “College isn’t a daycare. It shouldn’t be a safe space.” Piper calls these students “self-absorbed and narcissistic” and he specifically indicts Missouri, who recently managed to force the president to resign for ignoring racist threats; and Yale, who openly supported the students, for creating this “arrogant” culture.
Piper claims that schools should be a place where one’s ideas are confronted to better achieve learning. The problem with that is that there is a difference between a confrontational space and an adversarial one.
To better understand the difference, think of a book report you are given; a confrontational space asks for your ideas on the text and to analyze what you think the meaning is to be discussed in class. An adversarial space is the teacher that expects you to interpret the text a certain way, and their discussion is dominated and only driven by their interpretation of the text. This may be a small scale and simple situation but it holds true.
By condemning the events at Missouri, Piper essentially said that racist threats are not only okay, but should occur on college campuses. Safe spaces are necessary to not only learn at full capacity, but to grow as a person. How can a student function let alone learn when they don’t know if they are safe if they walk back home wondering if they will make it home, if their peers or professors believe their existence is a sin, or if they should be checking their back at every step.
Many people, like Piper, go through their lives without feeling this way so they can shrug it off as narcissism and paranoia. A lot of people don’t have the luxury to ignore these environments. How can a woman effectively learn knowing one-in-five women will be raped while attending college? How can a person of color learn knowing that they are killed at an astounding rate while members of Congress are part of the KKK? How can a Muslim learn knowing that his peers want them gone, or how can a LGBTQ+ student learn knowing peers and professors think that their life is a sin? This is why the majority of CEOs, congress and many positions of power are held by wealthy, white, straight men.
While it isn’t impossible for students to overcome these adversarial spaces, it always comes at a cost. We tend to always be stressed, we tend to suffer from depression, we tend to question why we exist and we tend to ask, “Why continue?”
Piper, you don’t normally face this form of hate so you don’t care about safe spaces. You are privileged, you are exempt from this adversarial space, but other people need them to be able to succeed and compete. Safe spaces should exist, especially in a place of learning.