Safe space culture stunts young minds


If one video could perfectly encapsulate the deleterious effect of having students marinate 24/7 in Identity Politics culture, protected by safe spaces, trigger warnings and campus speech codes, it would be this brief video of a scene from a pro-life protest and pro-choice counter-protest at the University of California, Davis.

Some context, from Campus Reform:

During the “three days of demonstrations,” Students for Life at UC Davis set up shop in a common area on campus where members distributed pro-life materials and polled students on whether or not later terms abortions should remain legal in California.

But counter-protesters were quick to disrupt the demonstration, throwing pro-life materials to the ground and even harassing some participants for taking pictures of the protest.

In a video obtained by Campus Reform, members of UC Davis Students for Life appear to be talking to a counter-protester who in turn pushes a stack of pro-life flyers to the ground and proceeds to walk away.

“I’m not sorry, I’m not sorry!” she said to cheers from her fellow protesters.

Although a campus police officer was monitoring the protests, no action was taken against the student.

Now, this has nothing to do with the rights or wrongs of the protest and counter-protest. Whether you personally believe in completely unrestricted abortion or are vehemently pro-life is irrelevant here. What matters is the behaviour of the protester who chose to vandalise the pro-life students’ materials, throwing their literature to the floor and walking away without even seeking to engage them in discussion.

Note the exchange which takes place when the student speaks with the campus security officer who witnessed the event:

Officer: Did you touch their stuff? Yes?

Student: Yes.

Officer: Why?

Student: Well, cause, like… [gestures limply at the pro-life stand, smirks and rolls eyes]

This student, accosted by a campus security officer for vandalising the pro-life students’ display, is utterly unable to account for her actions. She clearly believes she is completely in the right – as evidenced by her supporters’ chants of “she did nothing wrong!”. But when pressed as to the reason for her behaviour, the student is utterly incapable of accounting for herself with even the simplest of intellectual arguments.

But while the student was capable of nothing more than dumb aggression, we can easily paraphrase the argument which went through her mind as she picked up a bunch of leaflets with contrarian views and threw them to the floor. She thought: “I don’t like this. I disagree with this, and therefore I should not have to put up with its presence. Because I am offended and am unambiguously in the right, I have the right to lash out in any way I please at those who contradict me”.

This is what the Politics of Identity does to young minds. Not all protesters are so sulkily monosyllabic, of course. Many are able to speak quite eloquently, and in so doing give the outward  appearance of being reasonable, happy and willing to debate their beliefs and hear from those who disagree. But even those students who are able to do more than shrug and smirk betray themselves with their calls for safe spaces, campus speech codes and mandatory re-education or social probation for those whose hold opinions which are deemed “offensive”.

Because these students have been raised to treat encountering a contrary opinion from someone the same way as being physically or mentally “assaulted”, they can never be content, never rest, until they impose their ideological homogeneity on their entire campus environment, using either the carrot or the stick as suits their purposes.

And yet in many ways, these student crybullies are more sinned against than sinning. They did not make themselves this way. They are the product of a society which has increasingly promoted authoritarian restrictions on freedom of speech on the spurious grounds of public “safety”, as well as a therapeutic culture which constantly told them as they were growing up that “sticks and stones may break their bones, but words can kill them stone dead”. They did not grow up in a vacuum, and those responsible for educating them and governing during their formative years have much to answer for.

But the fact that the snowflake student generation are not entirely to blame for the way that they turned out does not absolve us of our responsibility to criticise what we see, and call it what it is – a real and present danger to academic freedom on university campuses, and freedom of speech and thought in our wider societies.

A more intellectually and emotionally developed student would have been able to walk past the pro-life student display and either ignore it or engage in a robust exchange of views with the organisers. But modern campus Identity Politics does not teach or encourage this skill. Rather, it affirms the existing world view of the student and tells them that they have the right not to ever have to see or hear a dissenting opinion. And so rather than debate, we have toddler-style lashing out and defacing of opposing literature.

Identity Politics and safe space culture do not merely coddle the American mind. They actively stunt and inhibit young minds on college campuses everywhere they are present. And the damage they inflict on certain individuals may not be reversible.

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