The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
Judith Shulevitz, writes in the New York Times, on the increasing infantilization of college students:
Safe spaces are an expression of the conviction, increasingly prevalent among college students, that their schools should keep them from being "bombarded" by discomfiting or distressing viewpoints. Think of the safe space as the live-action version of the better-known trigger warning, a notice put on top of a syllabus or an assigned reading to alert students to the presence of potentially disturbing material. . . .
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. . . .
while keeping college-level discussions "safe" may feel good to the hypersensitive, it's bad for them and for everyone else. People ought to go to college to sharpen their wits and broaden their field of vision. Shield them from unfamiliar ideas, and they'll never learn the discipline of seeing the world as other people see it. They'll be unprepared for the social and intellectual headwinds that will hit them as soon as they step off the campuses whose climates they have so carefully controlled. What will they do when they hear opinions they've learned to shrink from? If they want to change the world, how will they learn to persuade people to join them?
Or, put another way, how will they grow up?
1) It's not entirely clear how prevalent this phenomenon is. The demand for insulating students from potentially upsetting ideas does, for the moment, appears to come from a vocal minority and does not appear to have widespread support. Yet isn't that always how these sorts of things start? And isn't it well established that a vocal and highly motivated minority interest group can have an outsized influence on institutional policies?
2) Efforts to insulate students from challenging and even potentially offensive ideas cuts them off from the world and compromises much of the value of a traditional "liberal" education. It's like some want to turn universities into the secular equivalents of Ave Maria Town.
3) One of the benefits of having been right-of-center in college was that my political and philosophical views were constantly challenged. There was no "safe space" – and I was better for it. I often felt that I received a better education than many of my peers precisely because I was not able to hold unchallenged assumptions or adopt unquestioned premises.