This week, so called “safe-spaces” have made national news again as our PM Theresa May condemns them for stifling what she calls “lively debate” and bla bla bla bla bla *snooze*
Haven’t we heard it all before? The older generation just love to criticise ‘feeble’ students. We just don’t have backbones any more, do we? We’re all a bunch of pansies to scared to voice our conflicting opinions.
Which is kind of funny, I think. For several reasons.
First and foremost, I have rarely, if ever, heard as student voice explicit support for such safe spaces – there is a definite divide between what the NUS believes and what real, actual students believe.
And secondly, I’m not entirely at ends with safe spaces or trigger warnings or whatever else. I actually think there’s workable and helpful solution amongst the rhetorical shitshow that is now wasting MPs’ time in Parliament. In general, I think they promote some good ideas: that people should be informed and consensual when engaging with topics, whether that be (sexual) violence, abuse, self-harm or other difficult topics. Discussions surrounding these topics are important, yes; but there is a time and a place to have them. There are times – shock horror – when I do not want to be confronted with such topics. There are times when my mother – aged 53 – does not either, and chooses not to watch a particularly violent film that I may be watching. The fact is, our lives are a constant act of self-censorship. And there’s nothing wrong with that – as long as our self-censorship does not become censorship with others. And there’s the crux.
People on both sides have made stupid suggestions. The student left can, sometimes, feel very out of touch with both sense and the rest of the student population. That doesn’t change the fact that there are ugly opinions out there – yes, nobody is denying that. Should we be forced to listen to them? No. I have a right to ignore and avoid those opinions as surely as you have the right to voice them. We have to navigate to a moderate, balanced position where freedom of expression is not compromised and trigger or content warnings are nothing more than a means to informed consent.