York University, like many other post-secondary institutions, works to promote a diverse and inclusive environment for students to safely learn and grow. However, in our pursuit for environments free from stigma and aggressions, we often don’t realize the insidious byproduct that manifests itself in the process. When these “safe spaces” are developed, we must ask ourselves: who are they made to protect? Indeed, these areas are places in which students are safe from homophobic, transphobic, islamophobic, fat-phobic, and a plethora of other “phobic” language that could potentially cause students emotional distress. The issue here is that this blanket-protection against what some deem as “problematic” speech, or even “hate speech”, has begun to smother intellectual debate. It is becoming increasingly hard to express one’s opinion without the accusation of being something-phobic or violating another student’s emotional safety.
The lines between the individual and their ideology are being muddled in our predominantly left-leaning, “progressive,” university campuses. All too often, students are finding themselves in situations where their abstract, intellectual discussions about complex and sometimes uncomfortable topics are being perceived as a personal attack of the other student’s pseudo-intellectual beliefs. In other words, a critique or contradiction of one’s intellectual opinions is now seen as an attack on their fundamental being. This sets a dangerous precedent that encourages a small group of outspoken, dogmatic students to silence dissent and penalize students who may share intellectual opinions that are perceived as unacceptable.
Those in charge of running our universities, the faculty and administration, seem to do little to protect the rights of their students with conservative opinions that go against the current norm—either because they too fear the repercussions of eliciting the unholy rage of these hyper-sensitive and unwarrantedly righteous groups, or they are colluding with and failing miserably to hide their unfair bias for their leftist comrades.
Universities were founded on the basis of intellectual exploration. They are meant to push the boundaries of what we perceive to be true, ask hard questions about why we believe what we believe, and encourage us to strive to reach a more profound understanding of the world we live in. And yet, these values and principles seem to be put on the backseat in favour of a system in which students are expected to police their language in accordance of the current politically-correct rhetoric.
If one does not agree with another’s opinion, it is much more constructive to discredit them through debate rather than assassinating their character with toxic and unfounded labels such as “racist” or “bigot.” One should destroy the other’s arguments with more thought-out and intellectually-sound arguments of their own. Attack the idea, not the person. It is only in this way that we preserve the principles of intellectual freedom by which our university systems were founded upon. Safe spaces can indeed be useful tools that allow students to speak their mind without social repercussions. But that is only if they are made to protect the intellectual expression of all students, rather than the personal comfort of some. If you have disagreed with anything I have written in this piece, let’s forgo the name-calling and have a real discussion instead.