Wednesday, February 26

Jacqueline Alvarez: Campus “safe spaces” prevent students from engaging in honest dialogue

Student groups need to host constructive debates with clear argumentation guidelines in order to promote a healthy contest of viewpoints, which is necessary to reconcile students' differing political opinions. (Miriam Bribiesca/Photo editor)

Two weeks ago, I sat in a safe space in Bunche Hall, eager to open myself to the variety of stories and perspectives students had to share regarding the election results. I did not vote or feel any vexation after President-elect Donald Trump won, so I was genuinely curious as to how other students were coping.

When it was my turn to share my thoughts, I revealed my Mexican family had not been directly affected by the president-elect’s anti-immigrant comments because they were not here illegally. I was immediately bombarded with side-eye glances and shocked looks and quickly acknowledged my mistake:

“Sorry, undocumented immigrants.”

I was originally optimistic to hear authentic and vulnerable thoughts at the safe space, but came out disappointed. The opinions I heard were superficial, guarded and excessively “politically correct.” I felt like students were holding back from sharing their honest thoughts and feelings, as the strong fear of offending someone guided dialogue.

People were hesitant to raise their hands to participate. The awkward tension prompted the facilitator to ask attendees to contribute. And when people did speak up, they simply regurgitated what others before them said, offering absolutely no insight or solutions to their issues.

Similar safe spaces have been held throughout campus as platforms to make sense of the election and cultivate community among students who have been alarmed by Trump’s victory. These safe spaces aim to provide a comfortable, supportive environment for students to express themselves without the fear of attack or humiliation. But as a result, some of these spaces were hardly safe at all.

[Related: Bruin Republicans members encourage students to accept election results]

After attending a few more of these safe spaces, it’s clear they are necessary for all students, regardless of political affiliation. However, while we all need a place to vent and share how we feel, safe spaces are limiting, and we students need to acknowledge how they fail to reconcile political divisions. Instead, the student body needs to conduct constructive debates with guidelines that invite people to respectfully argue their different viewpoints and opinions.

People naturally gravitate toward settings and groups that favor their backgrounds and beliefs, and it’s mistaken to label safe spaces as a purely liberal concept. Earlier this month, Bruin Republicans Internal Vice President Julia Nista suggested their club can serve as a place for conservative students who find it difficult to share their opinions without facing attacks from students or faculty who disagree with them. In other words, their club is a safe space.

And even conservative safe spaces don’t help facilitate open dialogue. In early October, the club organized an event to discuss immigration policy, which Bruin Republicans outreach director Haley Nieves claimed would be an intelligent, public discussion that would hopefully help change some perspectives. But it wasn’t. At the end, the forum proved to be unproductive as attendees and panelists succumbed to a vicious and immature shouting match.

Another example of safe spaces gone wrong was the 2016 Students of Color Conference held earlier this month, which hundreds of University of California students attended, including some of UCLA’s Undergraduate Students Association Council representatives. According to their mission statement, SOCC’s major goal was to “create a space to discuss, dissect, and create relevant solutions to issues surrounding students of color.” However, the conference eventually turned into a kind of “oppression Olympics,” where students argued over which minority group was oppressed the most rather than finding solidarity and understanding amongst each other.

In essence, groups from both sides of the political spectrum have arranged their own safe spaces which have proven to be biased bubbles of ineffective discussion that lack respectability and open-mindedness. From excessive political correctness to downright toxicity, these spaces do not encourage students to engage in mature dialogue that could actually present solutions to their issues. It is important for participants to understand how to conduct themselves, while still being able to respectfully argue with others.

Having student organizations, such as USAC, initiate constructive debates on campus would help fix this. A set of guidelines would be a great way to facilitate these debates and ensure their productivity. For example, UC Berkeley has enacted its own set of discussion guidelines for students to follow when student organizations host debates and conversation forums. These guidelines dictate that participants should speak with the positive intent of seeking greater knowledge about their peers and understanding that students might unintentionally offend them.

[The Quad: Freeze Peach Friday: An Introduction]

Hosting debates can run the risk of causing more political division because students might be more concerned with “winning” a debate than understanding opposing perspectives. Nonetheless, the purpose of conversation and debate is to create general consensus on an issue. Unlike safe spaces which perpetuate political divides, debates will encourage bridging them.

If students claim that they want to engage in more thoughtful discussions and find workable solutions to their problems, they need to actually do it. So-called “safe spaces” and echo chambers won’t help anybody reach a clear consensus on any issues.

Alumni Director

Alvarez is the Alumni Director and a senior staffer in the Opinion section. She was an assistant Opinion editor in the 2017-2018 school year and previously contributed as an opinion columnist. She writes about topics such as campus life, Westwood and Los Angeles city programs.

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  • 1twothree4

    This is why we hire engineers from India and not the US. THIS.

    • Del_Varner

      Yes, and they haven’t been put through “Common Core” math, so they know how to get a correct answer, and not just one that makes them feel good.

    • Eggard Snark

      when I was in the engineering school nobody had time for identity politics, physics doesn’t care about feelings.

      • 1twothree4

        Same when I was in school. Not anymore. These people can’t even spell!!

    • A Smith

      I really doubt there are many engineering students involved in this. Too much actual study and thought required.

      • 1twothree4

        I have been running engineering departments for 20 years. What the heck do I know, right?

      • JerseyCowboy

        Why do you think you rarely hear about Asians doing these things, despite the fact that Asians have historically been far more oppressed and victimized in America than Hispanics or Muslims ever were.

        • Josephine Booth Coffin

          They’ve got a higher average IQ than Whites, Blacks or Hispanics and are economically more successful than even Whites as a result.

    • Ben

      Big SV companies might hire some foreigners because of some specialized need but most of the time it’s just outsourcing companies using them for cheap labor.

      • 1twothree4

        SV is mostly software. Those aren’t real engineers.

      • 1twothree4

        I didn’t say anything about ‘outsourcing’ either. I am talking about hands on, on site engineer. Code writing gets outsourced. Engineering phone support gets outsourced. Are you sure you are on the right thread??

    • Sheik Yerbouti

      Oh? It’s not because you can pay them substantially less? And how do you get around the mountainous fraud of degree mills in India? Guess what, a LOT of Indians LIE about their qualifications. I know that may come as a shock, but those of us who actually employ people have seen this whole thing play out.

  • ata777

    “After attending a few more of these safe spaces, it’s clear they are
    necessary for all students, regardless of political affiliation.
    However, while we all need a place to vent and share how we feel, safe
    spaces are limiting, and we students need to acknowledge how they fail
    to reconcile political divisions.”

    They used to call those “universities.” What a bunch of self-absorbed babies!

    • Dr. Why?

      Back in the day- we called them “Bull Sessions” and if you were offended you had to take up for yourself, not run and hide. NOt UC, but class of ’60 elsewhere. Oh yes 35 year on college faculty. Got out before the current crop of the uneducatables showed up in mass.

  • Eggard Snark

    campuses need fewer safe spaces and more cognitive behavioral therapy sessions.

  • LucreMagnus

    US undergraduate education could be greatly improved if (a), students seeking safe spaces had to work part-time or receive other infusions of the real world, by doing something useful; (b), professors, “educators,” and all the regents supporting this safe space nonsense, along with critical race theory, whiteness studies, and other irrelevancies, were required to secure a 55% vote of Californians every 5 years to retain their job.

    I say that having gratefully attended UCLA for grad school, and having sent two kids through UC (at full freight mind you, not on loans).

    Based on my own UC experience, thousands of UC students in every department are just trying to get out in 4 years and by pass all this nonsense. I wish you well and please let me assure you: There are few “safe spaces” in the real world: foreign and domestic competitors, customers, judges, clients, lending banks and investors really don’t have time for your “safe spaces.”

    You have strong competitors out there. Avoid the nonsense: even if its aided by professors, deans and regents who should know better. To many of them, paying students, no matter what they study, support pensions and benefits for the UC professors and deans. Look out for yourself. College ends and real worl begins.

  • A Smith

    As long as moral authority is achieved through Victimhood–and not through, say, personal achievement, relevant experiences, and respect for others–you’ll see violent clownishness like this.

    • Zeke Clinton


  • Josephine Booth Coffin

    Let the Left devour itself and double down on it’s stupidity; hopefully the Blacks will take control of the Democrat Party. That’s sure to be disaster and a boon to the Alt-Right.

    Trump won again, are you tired of losing? I’m not tired of winning.

  • Texas Sheik

    The sheer lunacy of liberalism. They can never make a cogent argument, it’s always emotional for them. Logic never enters the picture.

    Any major ending with studies in the name is a wasted degree. And Black liberals are the worst. They are becoming what they’ve hated in white people in general….. Racists.

    How do you confound a liberal, speak logically. Gets them every time.

  • Sarah Cohen

    Plan for promoting dialogue: 1. Open federalist society chapter. 2. Invite Sherrif Girgis to give a lecture and host a Q & A session at every UC and CalState campus. 3. Hire Ben Shapiro as an adjuct professor to give a course at bth CalStateLA and UCLA on the historical and philosophical background for the dominating political ideologies across the US landscape: marxism, conservatism, judeochristian ethic, ect. and Dave Rubin to give course on civil disagreement- as a media interviewer the lectures could be titled: the art and influence of comedy, the role and responsibility of the interviewer, the difference between discussion vs. debate, the responsibility of a moderator, the art of formulating questions for audience members, for press conference, for interview, ect. Hire Dave Rubin to be the staff adviser for the debate club/ federalist society and Ben Shapiro to be the staff adviser for the peer review political journal.

  • IrritatedRhino

    The problem with PC speech is that the first amendment is hi-jacked by it. Illegal Aliens are Illegal Aliens… Persons in a country illegally… If you call it by a different name, does it change the facts? No. It simply limits discussion…

    When you control the language you control the minds. You control dissent… People cannot speak their true mind… In that manner Political Correctness is completely insidious and people that insist on it should be identified as either weak minded or maintaining an agenda…

    Wake up. Do not be sheep. Be bold in your beliefs and wise in your judgement. Listen to all, follow none. You have your own mind… Use it.

    Otherwise, you deserve the yoke that will hitched to your neck.

    I invite you to consider the following quote from Abraham Lincoln:

    * You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift.
    * You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.
    * You cannot help little men by tearing down big men.
    * You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer.
    * You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich.
    * You cannot establish sound security on borrowed money.
    * You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred.
    * You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than you earn.
    * You cannot build character and courage by destroying men’s initiative and independence.
    * You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they can and should do for themselves.

  • IrritatedRhino

    Please remember, your grandfathers stormed the beaches at Normandy… Do you think they needed safe spaces on campus?

    We have gone from the Greatest Generation to Generation Snowflake…

    This will not end well.