Fighting the “safe space” culture:
The best weapon is ridicule

All defenders of free speech have a duty to push back against the growing hordes of petty, censorious student activists and their childish demands for trigger warnings, safe spaces and the banning of speakers with contradictory opinions from campus. But it is equally important that we do not go so far that we inadvertently give additional weight – and a false sense of seriousness – to their demands.

Scholarly articles certainly have their part to play – “In College and Hiding From Scary Ideas” by Judith Shulevitz in the New York Times, for example, was instrumental in bringing the problem of infantilised students to a wider audience. I have tried to contribute in my own way too, with pointed critiques of the students who want to ban clappingdemands that universities teach adults the meaning of sexual consent, and the abuse of the label “problematic” to ban unwanted ideas and opinions.

Sometimes however, humour can achieve more than ten earnest articles making the same point. So it is gratifying to see both South Park and satirical newspaper The Onion take on these symptoms of student infantilisation.

South Park recently devoted an entire episode of their current season to the topic of safe spaces, hearing the language of safe spaces and “harmful” ideas spout from the mouths of Randy Marsh or Eric Cartman does more to render this burgeoning culture ridiculous than all the books in the world – even the excellent “Trigger Warning: Is the fear of being offensive killing free speech?” by Mick Hume, which I am currently reading.

The Onion pitched in over the summer with an article entitled “Parents Dedicate New College Safe Space In Honor Of Daughter Who Felt Weird In Class Once”. In a spoof article which hits uncomfortably close to home, the Onion reports:

LYNNFIELD, MA — In an effort to provide sanctuary for Lynnfield College students exposed to perspectives different from their own, a new campus safe space was dedicated Wednesday in honor of Alexis Stigmore, a 2009 graduate who felt kind of weird in class one time. 

‘Addressing students at the dedication ceremony, parents Arnold and Cassie Stigmore noted that while the college had adequate facilities to assist victims of discrimination, abuse, and post-traumatic stress, it had until now offered no comparable safe space for students, like their beloved daughter, who encounter an academic viewpoint that gives them an uncomfortable feeling […]  

I’ll never forget the morning my daughter called and told me in a trembling voice, ‘Mom, my professor said some stuff today I didn’t like,’” recounted an emotional Cassie Stigmore, who also remarked that Alexis was left further traumatized upon looking at the course syllabus and finding it contained a book she did not want to read because it was written by an author whose politics she opposed. “As a parent, I’ll always wish I could have been there for her in that lecture hall, protecting her from those unwelcome concepts. […] 

After pausing to regain her composure, she continued, “If this safe space had been here then, my Alexis would have been able to surround herself immediately with people who would have reiterated and reinforced all the views she had when we first sent her to college—but sadly, it wasn’t, and she was left to deal with that new, unwanted idea on her own.’

We must never forget that our best weapon in the fight against these petty Orwellian tyrants is the simple act of ridicule.

The more we take seriously and earnestly debate with these student babies, coming up with detailed arguments as to why it is in everyone’s interests that they tolerate the presence of someone with different ideas on their campus – or why they are wrong to terrify their professors with accusations of supposed micro-aggressions to the extent that they become unable to properly teach – the more their hysteria can begin to seem like a valid world view.

Just as nobody takes seriously that diminished rump of eccentrics who maintain that the world is flat, so we should be careful not to take the bait every time some wobbly-lipped student demands the purging of a challenging book from the academic syllabus or the revocation of an honorary doctorate from a partisan figure.


Samuel Hooper is a journalist and blogger. He is passionate about politics, free markets and civil liberties. Follow him on Twitter here.

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The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty