School Split on Safe Spaces

Eileen O'Gorman | The PHOENIXLoyola does not have official safe spaces, but rather has resources for students who may face triggering situations.

The University of Chicago’s dean, John Ellison, sent out a letter to the school’s incoming class stating that the university is not in favor of the use of trigger warnings or safe spaces on its campus. This announcement sparked debate across the country, but where does Loyola stand?

Loyola does not have a policy specifically related to trigger warnings and safe spaces on campus, according to Dean of Students K.C. Mmeje.

“Outside the classroom, we strive to find a balance between ‘caring for’ and ‘challenging’ our students,” Mmeje said. “We encourage dialogue and debate as long as the dialogue is respectful and models appropriate behaviors. We believe that providing the option for students to find support is consistent with who we are as a Jesuit, Catholic University.”

In the last 30 days, Google has seen a 90 percent increase in the number of searches for the term “safe spaces” and a 40 percent increase for the term “trigger warnings,” according to Google Trends.

“Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support the so-called ‘trigger warnings’ … and we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces,’” the University of Chicago’s letter stated.

The Washington Post defines “safe space” as the physical version of a trigger warning, such as a notice written at the top of a syllabus or an assigned reading.

The notice, according to The Washington Post, prepares students for potentially disturbing material and ensure that students are not subjected to uncomfortable memories or flashbacks as a result of the reading.

Although Loyola does not have designated “safe spaces” on campus, there are resources where students can find confidential support. These resources include the Wellness Center, Student Diversity and Multicultural Affairs (SDMA), Achieving College Excellence, Services for Students With Disabilities (SSWD) and Military Veteran Student Services.

Students and teachers have expressed concern that the University of Chicago’s policy will prevent marginalized or traumatized students from finding secure places where they can discuss their experiences and troubles.

Others have voiced support for the university’s stance on safe spaces, claiming that it is not a university’s duty to shield students from topics they may find offensive.
Loyola students and faculty are divided on the issue.

Some students were more firm in their opinions on safe spaces and trigger warnings.

“I think they’re necessary; [issues faced by marginalized students] can be really traumatic,” said first-year theatre major Sarah Gokelman.

On the other hand, exposure to these uncomfortable topics is a part of life, according to Dr. David deBoer, associate director of the Loyola Wellness Center.

“In order to learn, you have to step out of your comfort zone,” said deBoer, a University of Chicago graduate. “People often joke that when they finish their schooling, they are ‘sadder but wiser’ because they’ve learned about these broken parts of the world.”

Still, deBoer said he believes that giving advanced warning of graphic content isn’t always a bad idea.

“It’s just like [what] you do on TV when you see a disclaimer saying, ‘This program may contain scenes of graphic violence,’’ he said. “Who’s really harmed by a heads up?”
Anthony Sis, a second-year graduate assistant of SDMA, said SDMA supports students from all cultures and backgrounds.

“We not only foster the success and community building of historically underrepresented student populations, but we also have created programs that engage white-identified students in topics related to social justice,” Sis said. “We seek to enhance the lives of the entire Loyola community by cultivating leaders and agents of social change through our programs and initiatives.”

SDMA has offered “safe space training” for faculty and staff. The next one is scheduled for Oct. 19.

“I can definitely say that interest has increased over the past year, but not directly as a result of the University of Chicago’s opposition,” Sis said. “This is great because it shows a high interest among the students, faculty and staff at Loyola to engage in conversations to better support the LGBTQIA community on campus.”

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