The right to freely broadcast your political beliefs in the ‘safe space’ of a university doesn’t mean you can’t be held accountable when those beliefs generate unsafe spaces for other students.
A video posted on The National Post shows a Mount Royal University student confronting another student about his ‘Make America Great Again’ hat. She later explained on Facebook that she confronted the man because the ideals represented by the hat could “make some people afraid.”
Although she could have been less confrontational in her approach — perhaps focusing on generating discussion rather than retaliation — her reasoning makes sense.
The point of a safe space, particularly in a university setting, is to preserve the right for all students to express their own beliefs and identities freely.
The student has a right to wear a hat expressing his political beliefs — after all, Trump is the official Republican candidate and could be the next President of the United States.
However, when one person’s right of expression treads on another’s feeling of safety the label of a ‘safe space’ doesn’t excuse them from accountability.
If a Muslim student was to walk through campus and see one of their peers advertising Trump — whose platform explicitly calls for the disbarment of Muslims from the US — the ‘safe space’ that allowed for one student’s political expression becomes unsafe for another.
That being said, cultivating safe spaces on campuses isn’t about protecting students from ideas they don’t agree with — it’s about accommodating different opinions and using them to generate thoughtful and positive discussions.
For those discussions to happen, the differentiation needs to be made between allowing students to express themselves and believing them to be unaccountable for the resulting conversations and consequences of their expressions when they threaten others.
The label of ‘safe space’ should represent a diversity of ideas and beliefs. But when one student’s interpretation of a safe space involves broadcasting beliefs that endanger another student’s right to a safe space, it defeats the purpose of a safe space to begin with.
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