BY LUKE WATHEN
The concept of safe-spaces on college campuses have been the topic of polarizing discussion in American media and everyday life, with much of the coverage being negative then postive. What started off as a means of fostering a more supportive environment on college campuses for LBGTQ students has, in some places, been bastardized into justifying the infantilization of college students and stifling free speech.
At Salisbury University, however, the concept of safe-spaces has retained its original and admirable mission of providing a voice to LGBTQ students who feel disregarded or marginalized.
Dr. Diane Illig, a sociology professor at SU and advocate for safe-spaces, said that these spaces exist to make LGBTQ feel safer and more welcome. At SU, the program is still largely a workshop where student and faculty participation is purely voluntary.
“We try to create a campus climate where LGBTQ students feel safe and welcome,” Illig said.
The workshop addresses small, yet meaningful ways that students can better understand their LGBTQ colleagues. These can be as simple as knowing what pronouns to use or being more careful with word choice, according to Illig.
While traditional media may push a narrative that the very idea of a safe-space is infantilizing to impressionable college students, this is not the case at SU. Through the safe-space program, students and faculty alike are simply taught how to be more socially conscious in their day-to-day lives and how they are capable of being inclusive or ostracizing by things as seemingly trivial as word choice.
This trend towards social consciousness comes in a time where it is more and more important to be aware of important to be aware of how our actions can influence others. In a world where messages are broadcast globally with the swipe of a finger, seemingly innocuous jokes and comments can carry unintended stigmas and insults.
It is because of this that safe-spaces are so important. Many do not even realize that they are being offensive or marginalizing with their words or actions and though the harm that these words cause is often unintentional, it is harmful nonetheless.
While SU is certainly not the first, or necessarily the best, at fostering inclusion through its commitment to equality, the steps undertaken by the safe-space program and those like it are a grand force for positive change. With the increased support and relevance of LGBTQ rights in the past few years, safe-spaces serve as a symbol for a more open and tolerant world.
Despite what the mainstream media may say about them, safe-spaces are a source of evolution for an increasingly tolerant world and SU, in addition to other campuses that stay true to the original intent of the program, are better-off for having them.