Why I Will Not Place a Safe Space Sticker on My Office Door

I’m sure that we have all come across some sort of Safe Space sticker, or sign on a professor’s door stating that “this office is a safe space. And discrimination will not be tolerated.” Or something along those lines, right? Some of the signs go beyond the blanket statement of discrimination and list out specific actions that will not be tolerated, “hateful speech,” “hatred,” “racism,” “homophobia,” “xenophobia,” “misogyny” etc. And none of those things should be tolerated.

In class last night we talked in groups about how we would address discrimination and inclusivity in higher education as new faculty members. Many of the groups talked about how we should be a model for anti-discrimination and inclusivity, and how we should lead by example to create a more inclusive environment. I agree that we should lead by example, and that’s why I won’t have a safe space sticker on my door.

The rhetoric that’s been thrown around social media, and popular news sources for the past year or so, especially around the election, has labeled conservatives as hateful, homophobic, xenophobic, misogynistic racists. Some of the allegations against Trump supporters get even nastier. And it didn’t stop there, the anti-Trump and anti-Trump-supporter sentiment, in more than a few cases, devolved into a polemic against the white people, and more specifically the white males who elected Trump. While the post election outrage against the conservative electorate has calmed down a bit, it hasn’t completely gone away.

Safe spaces predate the 2016 election, but they are exclusionary, by design, against everything the election-era rhetoric has labeled conservative students as. To be a model of inclusivity we have to recognize that not all conservative students, or Trump supporters, are hateful, homophobic, xenophobic, misogynistic racists. Not all conservative students are even one of those things. And further than that, we have to acknowledge that conservative students are not inherently all, or any, of those things, nor are they more likely to be than anyone else.

There is a whole student body who identify as conservatives, and I will not make them feel unwelcome by placing a sticker on my door.

10 Replies to “Why I Will Not Place a Safe Space Sticker on My Office Door”

  1. Why do you think a Trump supporter be offended or excluded because he/she sees a safe space sign or anti-hate sign? I am a Muslim and I never get offended or feel excluded when I see any anti-terrorism signs or statements because simply I’m against terrorism and I do go in protests against terrorism. If some of the Trump supporters are not really hateful or racist, they should not be offended. In contrast, I feel offended and excluded when I see unjustified actions against Muslims like banning Muslims from countries who never attacked USA.

    1. To answer your question, I have talked to students who are open Trump supporters and heard their concerns about how they are viewed on campus and about safe spaces in particular. I also addressed some of the reasons they are concerned in the post. The social conversation labeling all Trump supporters as racists (etc) is an on going one and the social conversation acknowledging that you can be a Trump supporter and not be a racist (etc) is a young conversation that has not gathered much steam as of yet. Also I have heard some of the instructors who have safe space stickers on their door express sentiments that they believe that Trump supporters must be racists (etc). I know that does not indicate that all instructors who have safe space stickers think all Trump supporters are racists but it is concerning. And despite what you know your personal beliefs to be, what other people perceive you as can have a large impact on you and whether you feel included.

  2. Hmm. I can see your point, and I agree that Trump supporters get blamed for a lot of things without people really understanding what it is that makes Trump appealing to them. I would challenge you not just to keep the “safe space” sticker off your door, however, but to put a different sticker instead. Be the person who is willing to hear students out and also give them enough credit to assume they can handle being challenged and asked to back up their ideas. How that fits on a sticker, I don’t know, but I think it’s an important portal for “teachable moments.” I feel like just saying that we’re not going to have safe spaces because they offend some people isn’t a good solution. Rather, we should invite everyone to join and learn from the ongoing conversation, and for many students, they really need to be invited or else they won’t do that. Students don’t have to agree with me, but I do have a right to ask them why they feel a certain way and give them additional information that might change their viewpoint.

  3. Wait a second; I think this may be one big misunderstanding. Are you perhaps confusing the abstract idea of a “safe space” with the “SafeZone” program?

    The former is the general concept that students should always feel safe in the classroom, and therefore must be treated very delicately. It is a relatively new concept which certainly has some merit, but in recent years has been perhaps taken too far. You hear stories about how Columbia students didn’t want to read Greek or Roman mythology because of the depictions of sexual abuse (but you’re Classics majors), or how an instructor at Marquette refused to allow a student in her philosophy course to argue against gay marriage (but it’s a philosophy course, they argue about whether or not toasters are real). There are also countless examples of students trying to prevent controversial speakers from speaking at their university. I am generally against this interpretation of the “safe space” movement, because being challenged intellectually is an incredibly valuable part of being at a university. You should be able to argue both sides of any argument, and you should be especially aware of the opposing side’s rationale. In fact, the more you oppose a viewpoint, the more essential it is that you understand why some people hold it. You should also be exposed to differing opinions; it is far more valuable than going through life without ever being challenged.

    The SafeZone has little to do with this. It is a very clearly defined university run program that actually predates the modern social justice movement by at least a decade. The movement started in the 1980-90s (VT’s was formed in ’98) as a means by which LGBT students could find professors who were “allies” and willing to serve as mentors or offer guidance in a time of need. They are not counselors, but they have a little training on what resources the university provides. If a female student gets sexually assaulted, she can head to the woman’s center, the counseling center, or ask one of her female professors for advice – but in the 1980s, what would a gay male student do? This may seem superfluous now, but in the 1980s and 1990s there was a good chance a professor may be less than enthusiastic to hear about the problems of a gay kid… especially if it involved sex. That is their prerogative, but it is certainly helpful to identify the allies who would in fact be sympathetic and willing to listen.

    There are still SafeZone stickers all over campus, I myself hold one, but they are on office doors, not classrooms. The idea is not to censor discussion in the classroom, but rather to identify the offices of professors willing to listen. And it is certainly not exclusive – it doesn’t mean I only care about gay students. It doesn’t mean I would turn away a Trump supporting undergrad who feels overwhelmed by the political vitriol thrown at them (a very significant issue too). I’m happy to give whatever support I can to ALL my fellow Hokies; the sticker just means “yes LGBT folks, that means you too”.

    TL;DR: I think you’re confusing the VT SafeZone program with the modern safe space movement.

    1. thanks for your reply. I had seen the vt safe zone stickers before but had not heard about the program as a whole. I am, however, referring to safe space signs and stickers. I may have confused one or two safe zone stickers with a safe space sticker, but there are also printed signs hung on office doors designating offices as safe spaces.

      1. Do you have a picture of these? I have never seen a “safe space” sign. If that is the case, I stand corrected. Even so, it isn’t that detrimental on an office door. It is far worse on a classroom door as it could encourage students not to engage in class discussions for fear of crossing that imaginary line in the sand.

        On a side-note, I can’t imagine that a “safe space” professor would refuse to talk to you about “unsafe” stuff. I’d guess they mean that if there was a group meeting they would want to protect the other students, not themselves.

        Second side-note. The censorship and echo-chamber effect is not a problem exclusive to the left. It is heavily entrenched liberal arts schools like Oberlin, but the folks at Liberty and Bob Jones get the exact same treatment on the opposite side (though I must commend Liberty on inviting Bernie Sanders to speak). For what it is worth, I have very rarely seen censorship at VT. I had a Global Health class that talked about W’s anti-HIV campaign and it got quite contentious, no censorship at all from the prof.

  4. This is horrific. If Trump supporters feel threatened by marginalized people feeling safe- that’s because it threatens their power, which is dependent upon the oppression of these groups of people. Please don’t be complacent in this! Trump supporters SHOULD feel uncomfortable- they are openly supporting racism and bigotry!

  5. This is such a stupid and ignorant post. I truly hope most people who work in education don’t take this advice or react this way. Gross.

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