Opinion: Safe spaces promote a dangerous lack of growth

The four freedoms. (dbking/Wikimedia Commons)

There is a saying that goes “birds of a feather flock together,” but there is nothing more dangerous than a room full of people who agree with you.

I do not claim to be an expert on politics and I certainly do not have the credentials to call into question anyone’s political opinions; however, what I do know is that conflict resolution always begins with the willingness to see things from the other perspective. It is not possible to find common ground without understanding what the other person stands for.

As freshmen, we are often encouraged to join student organizations and activist groups to meet like-minded people. But with liberal students exclusively connecting with like-minded students, and with conservatives doing the exact same thing, people only continue to live in echo chambers, reinforcing the ideas and boundaries already set up.

Our education, experiences and upbringings are some of the things that shape our worldviews. This is why we have varying values and perspectives. Many would agree that conflict with a loved one wouldn’t make you reject the entire person. But what many people tend to forget is that our loved ones aren’t necessarily better people, we just happen to find it easier to see beyond their views because we love them.

We must make an effort to find the same kind of understanding and acceptance towards others; however, the increasing prevalence of echo chambers and safe spaces prevents us from doing so.

In the 1960s, college students fought for the right to engage in the kind of conversations that students today hide from. First inspired by the civil rights movement and later fueled by the opposition of the Vietnam War, the free speech movement spurred students to protest the ban against political activity on campus. This epitomizes the hallmark of free speech and the values this country was built upon. Nonetheless, with the rise of safe spaces on college campuses and workplaces, people seem to be demanding the exact opposite today.

As the name implies, safe spaces, are intended to provide people with a comfortable place without conflict or criticism. But the idea of shying away from dissenting arguments is fundamentally at odds with the entire process of preparing you for the real world.

Van Jones, a former advisor to Barack Obama, suggests that while being safe from physical harm is important, the need to be ideologically and emotionally safe is unreasonable. In a 2017 talk at the University of Chicago, Jones stressed the need for students to stand up for what they believe in.

“I want you to be offended every single day on this campus. I want you to be deeply aggrieved and offended and upset and then to learn how to speak back,” Jones said. Retreating into your echo chamber in the name of social harmony has never been the answer and will never be. A place for the forthright engagement of different ideas and healthy debate belongs in any form of democracy, as there is no overlap between the idea of freedom of speech and safe spaces.

College students limiting their social interactions to individuals who share their same beliefs takes away their unique potential to connect with people they would never have met otherwise. On the CU campus alone, there are at least 34,510 different students with 34,510 perspectives and 34,510 different stories to tell. Although being surrounded by people who support your views may feel comforting, growth happens outside of our comfort zones.

By refusing to leave your echo chamber, you are making the conscious decision to live under a rock. Though possibly threatening, unfamiliar ideas liberate you, not only from your own bubble but from your fixed mindset too.

During Barack Obama’s final rally of his 2012 presidential campaign, he shared how intellectual disagreement helped shape his beliefs.

“It was because there was this space where you could interact with people who didn’t agree with you and had different backgrounds that I then started testing my own assumptions,” Obama said. “And sometimes I changed my mind. Sometimes I realized, you know what, maybe I’ve been too narrow-minded. Maybe I didn’t take this into account. Maybe I should see this person’s perspective.” 

Ultimately, setting aside your ego, being flexible with your views and realizing that there are no absolute truths in the marketplace of ideas is just as important as having conviction.

In a fast-paced world, the only way to keep up is to constantly challenge yourself and the status quo. There is a fine line between being loyal to your values and being stubborn, between protecting your mental health and ignoring the world around you, and between staying in your comfort zone and depriving yourself of intellectual growth.

Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Mariko Nomi at mariko.nomi@colorado.edu. 

Mariko Nomi

I am a first-year student majoring in Economics and International Affairs. I enjoy listening to Genesis, Oasis and The Red Hot Chili Peppers.

No Comments Yet

Comments are closed