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Explaining the “Safe Space” Movement on College Campuses, Especially LSU

national association of scholars, NAS

The National Association of Scholars‘ Argus Project has a piece about those “Safe Space” stickers that adorn so many faculty doors on so many college campuses. The stickers are meant to show that faculty member’s commitment to the freedom of Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender [LGBT] students:

“The device indicates that the faculty member—in Wikipedia’s words—“does not tolerate anti-LGBT violence and harassment and is open and accepting” of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered students.”

One can only assume that the hallways connecting those faculty offices are teeming with violence and the harassment of non-heteronormative students. The Magical Sticker, like a base on our national pastime’s diamond, provides relief – if you’re touching it, you can’t be called out.

If I were a LGBT student, I wouldn’t be able to keep myself from standing just on the “safe” side of the faculty threshold and taunting the menacing hallway abusers with variants of, “Youuuu can’t get meeee!”

In all seriousness, discrimination based on things like gender, race, sexuality, ethnicity, etc. aren’t to be tolerated on college campuses. We know this, and I can think of few scholars who don’t uphold that ideal. Ms. Thorne points to that common sense:

“… college campuses on the whole are not especially dangerous places for LGBTers. Moreover, faculty members in general are not a conspicuous source of “violence and harassment” towards sexual minorities.”

I wouldn’t bother with this program if I had an office at a college/university. I don’t need to display sticker-proof of a lack of bigotry, especially since the institution with which I’d have a contract is committed to the ideals that sticker supposedly shows that I hold.

But what message does the lack of a “Safe Space” sticker send to students?

“The purple badge of courage declares that here is a faculty member (staff, etc.) who will not just refrain from verbal cruelty and physical abuse, but offer shelter to those who live in peril of such attacks from non-stickered faculty members down the hall…”

A bit of hyperbole – these issues would be too painful to read about without it – but the point is perfectly appropriate.

Louisiana State University [LSU] appears to be a particularly odd advocate of the Safe Space:

“The program, which refers to itself as a “campaign,” is directed by the LSU Office of Multicultural Affairs. LSU’s Safe Space (hereafter just “Safe Space”) describes its goal as to “identify and educate individuals who will affirm and support all persons regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.”

Safe Space invites and takes recommendations for certain faculty, staff, and students to be potential Safe Space hosts. If these potential hosts accept the invitation they must attend a three-hour workshop “in which participants are provided with the goals and structure of the Safe Space Campaign, information about the LGBT movement, given the opportunity to ask questions, and explore possible interactions with visitors as a result of their participation in the program.” When they have completed their three-hour tour:

“…participants are asked to sign a pledge that indicates the required level of commitment for becoming a Safe Space Host. Participants are required to sign this pledge as well as attend the workshop in order to gain the status of Safe Space Host. Participants are expected to be at a certain level of support and acceptance for positive LGBT interactions. Participants not at this level are encouraged to postpone their commitment until they reach a higher level of acceptance.”

The “certain level of support and acceptance” needed to enter the charmed triangle isn’t spelled out on the website and is a bit mysterious.”

It’s mysterious to me, too. Surely the NAS asked for clarification, and LSU – being a public University – answered with all deliberate speed, yes?

“I have tried to find out by emailing and calling LSU officials, but so far I have received four refusals, five non-answers, and one request that I submit my questions in writing to the program director, who has not yet answered. (I did, however, obtain a copy of a memo to Safe Space Hosts advising them to stonewall.)…

… Seeking conversations with those involved in Safe Space, I contacted the Office of Multicultural Affairs, along with eight “host” faculty and staff members at LSU. One person, an LSU alumnus who had been trying to help get me contacts, forwarded an email from “Bruce Parker II,” the Safe Space coordinator, who had already refused my interview request. Mr. Parker II asked “Safe Space Hosts, Allies and Friends” that they refer “all requests for interviews or information to our office.”

The “Hosts” who received Mr. Parker II’s memo might well have thought he intended to answer me on their behalf. He didn’t.He also offered an interesting characterization of the NAS as “anti-diversity in its mission” and as having a “hostile mission.” Who? Us? To be clear, NAS is on the record as opposed to racial preferences in higher education. There is nothing in our mission or our policy statements over the 21 year history of NAS that puts us in opposition to diversity in general or to the active participation in higher education of LGBTQ individuals in particular. We are not “hostile” to people, though we are often skeptical of illiberal ideologies and programs based on such ideologies.As skeptics, we are part of the thoroughly mainstream and classical tradition of open-minded inquiry, and we believe that any program that aspires to a legitimate place in higher education must similarly embrace the principles of transparency and candor. Nothing alarms us more about the LSU “Safe Space Campaign” than its willful opacity, including Mr. Parker II’s determination not to answer questions from an organization he deems “hostile.”

So it seems that Safe Space lived up to its name and withdrew, turtle-like, into its shell.”

Is Victimology a major at LSU? Is there a course at least?

Asking for and expecting fair, honest, dignified treatment is an acceptable goal – when it’s necessary action at all. Demanding that one display a badge to show their competency with common decency teeters on obnoxious and divisive.

Bruce Parker, the darling champion of LSU’s Safe Space effort, is no stranger to such advocacy on the campus:

“Parker tells that the focus of LGBTQ [of which he is President] is to educate the faculty and staff about being aware on how to handle LGBTQ situations.“We are working to bring the gay community of Baton Rouge together,” says Parker. “LGBTQ’s goal is to organize the gay community through education, hosting events and awareness groups and show the world that we are just as equal as anyone else.””

Equal, of course, unless Parker has deemed you discriminatory and “hostile.” Parker is active off the campus as well, and I’m sure I’ll cross paths with him again. He appears to be pursuing a career in education policy.

Comments on the article include testimony from a professor at an unnamed institution who decided not to be a Safe Space Host. It’s a solid, sober closing:

“What are the consequences for “resisters” like me? To this day, no one has openly questioned my refusal to join the “provisioners of safe space for LGBT students.” Yet, there is no need for such questioning. While the absence of that sticker on an office door does not, in and of itself, make a faculty member suspect, it is nonetheless interpreted as additional proof of the “bigotry and intolerance” already ascribed to professors who have a history of openly opposing other facets of the politicized university, such as race-based hiring practices. Thus, it is merely one more justification for the campus “thought poliece” to smuggly confirm its discriminatory views of those who dare to differ with their self righteous “social justice” agenda.”

8 Responses to “Explaining the “Safe Space” Movement on College Campuses, Especially LSU”

  1. I should have known you’d come out against the idea of a save environment for gays, lesbians and transgendered, and that you’d resent any suggestion that it might be a good idea to say such a thing.

    Suggesting that no such action is needed is to turn a blind eye to the obvious violence and abuse, and saying that people are “demanding” that you post a sticker is misrepresentative and needlessly prejudicial.

    Why am I not surprised that you prefer to continue the silence and tolerance of violence and hatred?

  2. Stephen,

    You’re grossly misrepresenting my position [which is a phrase I should have on copy/paste duty to respond to your comments]. You are, as I have said before, the most intellectually-dishonest person in the education blogosphere – except when it comes to technology, where I consider you honest, reflective and [usually] sensible.

    Grab some water, buddeh – you run the risk of dehydrating when you froth at the mouth like this.

    I don’t think much of identity politics. That’s a far cry from condoning “violence and hatred” or “abuse,” and I suspect that I’d treat students more fairly and more evenly than professors with the sticker on their door.

    When are you finally going to lose it and threaten to kill me, anyway? Then I can just call in my favor with the ReThuglican/GWBush Thought Police, have you arrested and sent off to a re-education camp.

  3. … and a more serious addendum re: the Downes comment:

    Stephen, you’ve proven my point – and the NAS’s point – that the sticker is potentially divisive. I’m not into the sticker or the training or the “Safe Space” movement. Because of that, you’ve characterized me as a homophobic, intolerant gay-basher – or at least one who’s comfortable with those who are.

    What a rotten conclusion and a damned flawed methodology for reaching it.

  4. Jared Stein says:

    I must concur that the “Safe Spaces” sticker strikes me as silly. As Matthew pointed out having it or not having it on your says very little about an individual’s true tolerance or fairness to others; choosing to reject the sticker (or “Safe Space” as a whole) doesn’t imply one’s willingness to “[tolerate] violence and hatred”.

    In fact, rather than providing “shelter” for homosexuals the movement seems to be simply aimed at garnering visible support for the LGBT community. Stephen suggests that there is “obvious violence and abuse” of LGBT folks on campuses which is motivating this movement, but that doesn’t jive with reported statistics. Let me be clear that any violence and abuse against a LGBT person is intolerable, but it’s not an epidemic either: the FBI reports tracked just under 10,000 hate crimes in 2004, of which 15% were motivated by sexual orientation, and then only approx 10% of those were violent crimes. At any rate, I would guess that college campuses are already the most accepting environments in our respective nations for LGBT individuals.

    I say let’s spend our time and arguments on things that are more important.

  5. They have those stickers at my college, and I choose not to have one on my door mainly because those stickers are asking me to affirm the homosexual lifestyle rather than tolerate it. There’s a difference. I’ve got no problem teaching, working alongside, or even befriending homosexuals in my workplace. But I do not condone homosexuality and I am definitely not ready to give the sort of 100% wholehearted affirmation of homosexuality that the so-called “tolerance” these stickers represent wants me to give. So far, absence of the sticker does not imply “unsafe for gays” in most people’s minds, but I wonder if that will ever change.

  6. Jared,

    Not only do I agree with what you’ve said, but I’m a bit troubled by anyone who wouldn’t come to the same conclusion – not because I love to stifle diversity or because I’m narrowminded [though Stephen would disagree], but because the evidence that college campuses are incredibly safe/tolerant is overwhelming.

  7. Robert,

    The NAS piece has a part about that sticker standing for a political/social agenda rather than simply for acceptance and tolerance. To too many people, those are the same thing, though – and the irony about stamping out intellectual diversity in the name of identity politics isn’t lost.

    We don’t need to display stickers that show we’re not racists or homophobes.

  8. Andrew says:

    College campuses are not the LBGT heaven that you’ve made them out to be. Violence aside, most instructors are extremely heteronormative, assume everyone to be straight and cissexual, unknowingly leave LBGT material out of their curriculum, and don’t have a clue how to deal with transgender and transsexual students. How many times have I asked an instructor to refer to me with the appropriate language and pronouns “he, him and mr.” only to have the routinely make mistakes? How many colleges make it difficult for trans students to get their prefered name and gender on their official documents? How many teachers ignore or even participate in jokes about how “funny” it would be if Johnny wore a dress or some other subtly homophobic or transphobic joke? LBGT students pick up on these things alot more than heterosexuals do, and we know they happen all the time.

    When seeing a sticker on their door, a LBGT student who faces these things everyday sees that someone has put a little thought into the issues and is at least trying their best to be supportive. In a world where LBGT topics are usually invisible or ignored, it can be a positive thing. How is it a bad thing? No one sees a sticker and thinks the rest of the college space is automatically more dangerous.

    PS There are plenty of teachers like Robert Talbert (comment above) in the world. He has the right to his opinion, but he’s definitely not the proffessor I’m going to casually drop a reference about my gay partner to.

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