On Safe Spaces and Freedom of Speech

I read an article in The Michigan Daily last week about the debate between Julie Bindel and Milo Yiannopoulos that took place on February 23rd on the University of Michigan campus. The two British writers – Bindel a self-described feminist, Yiannopolous an editor at the conservative website Breitbart.com – discussed whether feminism impedes free speech during the event, which was sponsored by The Michigan Review.

At the same time just across the Diag, the Spectrum Center, U of M’s primary resource and support center for LGBTQ students, extended their evening hours to provide “an alternative space for students who felt threatened by the debate,” according to the Daily article. Organizations at other universities have created ‘safe spaces,’ but as a Michigan alum this one bothered me, my mood darkening with the February sky as I drove home that evening.

If a student doesn’t want to hear Milo Yiannopoulos speak, he shouldn’t attend the event. It is that simple. But safe spaces, by asserting the need for protection from ideas, imply that comfort is more important than critical thinking. That closing oneself off from alternate views is better than standing up for one’s own. That campus leaders at the Spectrum Center can decide for the student body which viewpoints are legitimate and which should be avoided.

We are traveling down a dangerous path. Among the many attempts to silence speech on campuses, the last year has seen Yale students try to have a professor removed from her residential position for posing a thoughtful question and students at Wesleyan attempt to defund a student newspaper after it published an opinion piece to which they objected. And somehow incidents like this have become a trend – a trend that will do a great deal more to set us back than it ever will to move us forward.

Maybe many others have already expressed these thoughts in one form or another. Maybe there will be negative repercussions for writing this post. But the latter is exactly why I still feel the need to say these things.  What do you think?  Should there be safe spaces, or do safe spaces do more to harm the free flow of ideas than encourage it?

Mackinac Island


2 thoughts on “On Safe Spaces and Freedom of Speech

  1. Nicole

    For me, your post was spot on. When I was in college 30 some years ago, it was my intention to learn and absorb views different from my own. I welcomed it. It was a time to be open to opposing views from professors and students and to utilize this information to formulate my own conclusions. Our reluctance to feel uncomfortable and seek “safe places” is, in my opinion, only doing students of today a disservice, for the world is filled with adversity and differing viewpoints. Safe spaces contradict the goal of higher education and free speech. Understanding ideologies that make us uncomfortable is the foundation to developing one’s own ideology and to the growth of our college students.


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