University president: All students deserve safe spaces

Feeling safe is essential to learning, he argues

Safe spaces help students embrace uncomfortable lessons in the classroom, Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro writes in the Washington Post.

Schapiro reflects on emails he's recently received, many asking questions like, why are safe spaces such a big deal? And why aren't some spaces more inclusive?

"The familiar question is, 'Why do the black students eat together in the cafeteria?'" Schapiro says. But he contends such a perspective misses the bigger picture.

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Many groups use the cafeteria as a safe space and sit with each other there, he notes. Sorority members sit with their sisters, athletes eat with their teammates, club members with other club members—"but people seem to notice only when the students are black," he says.

Shapiro believes that students should expose themselves to ideas that might make them uncomfortable, but he contends that students reserve the right to decide when and where that uncomfortable learning will happen. It doesn't need to be everywhere, all the time; safe spaces offer a moment of peace.

According to Shapiro, psychological and sociological research shows that students are most open to learning when they feel personally safe and comfortable.

Northwestern has multiple spaces on campus that allow groups of students to interact with other students with similar backgrounds. For example, the Black House on campus is intended as a center for black student life. Similarly, Hillel House offers a safe space on campus for Jewish students, and the Catholic Center provides an area for Catholic students.

But while some proposed converting the Black House into a broader multicultural center, Shapiro points out that many houses that are designed for people of certain backgrounds are never challenged.

"I have never gotten a single note questioning the presence of Hillel, of our Catholic Center, or any of the other safe spaces on campus," Schapiro notes (Schapiro, Washington Post, 1/15).

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