Safe Space In Paris

According to the New York Times headline, the death toll in Paris from last night’s coordinated terrorist attacks stands at 127, with another 200 wounded. There are things to be said about this attack, not the least of which is that for all that’s been done, to appease religious groups, to sacrifice rights for safety, to put effort and fortunes into ineffective methods for the purpose of preventing them from ever occurring again, it still happened.

There will be advocates using this to further an agenda. And it will reduce the horror of mass murder to an abstraction, a tool to be used to manipulate the unwary and hard of thinking.  For now, the only thing to be said is to offer condolences to those whose family, loved ones and friends were murdered. Their deaths are real, and they cannot be undone.

As reports of the murders in Paris spread, so too did reactions from college campuses, angry that dead bodies stole the spotlight from their complaints.  A twitter account, @AmherstUprising, which may be an intentional parody or merely a parody in fact, announced that it would be protesting the school’s mascot at its football game today.


The contrast between mass murder and the “pain” of a liberal arts college mascot could not be more stark. While this distinction was the subject of a post yesterday, its relevance was driven home far more quickly than I would have imagined. And they are outraged that murder made their cries of pain seem silly and puny.  If choices, like the mascot for Amherst College, made long before you were a twinkle in anyone’s eye, displease you, you can always leave.

It’s sheer coincidence that there is an op-ed in the Times today by Roxanne Gay, an English prof at Purdue.  She begins with the rhetorical device of exposing her personal harm as a child, having experienced a “brutal assault.” There are no details, so we have to rely on her conclusory claims.

I am now always searching for safety, and I appreciate safe spaces — the ones I create for my students in a classroom, the ones I create with my writing and the ones others create, too — because there is so much unsafe space in this world.

Flowery prose does not conceal insipid thought.  The Bataclan music hall in Paris was an unsafe space. That was because of bullets that struck human bodies, not words or ideas that caused horrible pain and discomfort. To conflate the two is sick and twisted.

And so the students at Mizzou wanted a safe space to commune as they protested. They wanted sanctuary but had the nerve to demand this sanctuary in plain sight, in a public space. Rather than examine why the activists needed safe space, most people wrapped themselves in the Constitution, the path of less resistance. The students are framed as coddled infants, as if perhaps we should educate college students in a more spartan manner — placing classrooms in lions’ dens.

That “path of less [?] resistance” is why the coddled infants were allowed to protest without being shot, no matter how puny their complaints.

Feminism is largely responsible for introducing safe space into our cultural vernacular as a means of fostering open, productive dialogue.

How Gay writes that suppressing speech and thought fosters “open, productive dialogue” is no mystery. It’s easy to string words together that produce a nonsensical sentence, and hope that no one capable of thought will point it out.

Safe spaces allow people to feel welcome without being unsafe because of the identities they inhabit. A safe space is a haven from the harsh realities people face in their everyday lives.

Ideas and words that differ from the ones that validate a child’s unduly sensitive whims aren’t quite the harsh realities from which safety is needed. Bullets are a harsh reality. No one bleeds from an unpleasant idea.

There is also this. Those who mock the idea of safe space are most likely the same people who are able to take safety for granted. That’s what makes discussions of safety and safe spaces so difficult. We are also talking about privilege. As with everything else in life, there is no equality when it comes to safety.

Students at Yale, Mizzou, Amherst, are as privileged as they come.  The same coddled infants who cry over their unvalued pain enjoy safety beyond measure, food in a cafeteria, a warm bed in a dorm, the use of a public meeting room on campus to plan their revolution.

Rather than use trigger warnings, I try to provide students with the context they will need to engage productively in complicated discussions. I consider my classroom a safe space in that students can come as they are, regardless of their identities or sociopolitical affiliations. They can trust that they might become uncomfortable but they won’t be persecuted or judged. They can trust that they will be challenged but they won’t be tormented.

And they will be the first to judge and torment anyone who utters a word or idea that challenges their vision of the world, despite your self-congratulatory pedagogy.

There is a small group of people who demand that others adhere to their dogma, their outrage at words and ideas that differ from their own.  And they will not be stopped from forcing their vision down everyone else’s throat, because they are certain their ideology is right and just, and so anything they do is righteous and justice. They are called ISIS.  They made their voice heard in Paris yesterday.

And the coddled infants are whining that it diverted attention from their fury about a mascot, because they too demand to be heard.  Thank whatever deity you prefer that no bullet struck a child on a college campus yesterday, so that they could be alive today to complain about their suffering.

26 thoughts on “Safe Space In Paris

  1. PDB

    This post offends me!!! I’m reporting you to the Dean and I will tell all my followers Twitter/Facebook/Instagram/Yelp/Amazon/Pornhub!!! Solidarity!!!

      1. David M.

        Pornhub allegedly lost 10% of its traffic yesterday because gamers were too busy playing Fallout 4 to jerk off. Truly, college kids, it’s a hard life we’ve got.

          1. David M.

            Oy vey. Your buddy Cernovich notwithstanding, if gamer children are our future, we really are screwed.

            1. paul

              Also your past. There was a Senet board as part of the trove in king tuts tomb. Gaming is part of human nature. Senet is similar to parcheesi in case you were curious.

  2. Noxx

    Perhaps this is a teachable moment for our poor beleaguered students, on the difference between unsafe, and just uncomfortable.

  3. Mike G.

    When you consider the cost of tuition at these schools, with Mizzou being the least expensive at 35K/yr and the fact that most of these students aren’t on scholarship or paying for their education through grants, if I were one of these kids’ parents, I’d be pissed and demanding a refund.

    1. SHG Post author

      Imagine the parent who would have cut off his left arm for the opportunity to attend college, watching his child squander the opportunity over nonsense. Hearts will break.

  4. Richard G. Kopf


    Here is a University promo that I would like to see:

    At the University of the Elite, please remember that you will never be safe. Your feelings will be hurt, sometimes intentionally. There is even an offhand chance you will be killed by a nut case with a gun, so we recommend the “concealed carry” option. In short, like every place else in the world, our University is a dangerous place where daily microaggressions are the least of your worries.

    But, we don’t want to discourage you. So, we at the University of the Elite offer you sumptuous solace. That is, if you pay our fees, you will find an abundance of sex, drugs and rock and roll and absolutely no responsibility for much of anything else.

    All the best.


  5. Mark

    They took over a building at UMass too. They want the mascot changed. It’s a Minute Man. Too bellicose. One of the times I was a student, they suggested an Artichoke as a replacement. I don’t have any strong feelings on the subject, but I think that my alma mater would be better represented by an animate object.

    1. SHG Post author

      Some, sure, but not all. I even credit them as being well-intended, if grossly misguided. I just don’t know what can be done at this point to shake them out of this narcissism, but it certainly starts with someone acting like a grown-up.

  6. Gloria Wolk

    “Flowery prose does not conceal insipid thought.” Perfect and succint.

    I would torture me to find my adilt children thinking like this. I know they don’t, and can only hope my grandchildren are more fit for society. That professor, IMHO, is a terrible model and, hopefully, not an influence on the students.

  7. Franklin Michaels, Jr.

    On your assertion “Students at Yale, Mizzou, Amherst, are as privileged as they come.” Gawd knows I’d be with you if you had listed Wash U St. Lu instead of Mizzou. But after reading a story earlier this week in the NYT , “At University of Missouri, Black Students See a Campus Riven by Race,” one I sent to my sons at their respective school, I gotta demur as to Missou.

    The article contains, in some detail and particularity, pretty graphic stuff, especially on how Afro-American young women from Chicago, etc. have treated by their “roommates from rural Missouri.” To the point that it reads like the reception minority students might of found in some newly integrated southern schools that might have been found c.1969-71. And of course it’s not everyone, but as the article made clear, this “real stuff” impacts enough of the kids to matter.

    By analogy only, today we roll are eyes about allegations of hostile environments in law firms – another topic – but back in the early eighties I started at a 40-lawyer firm where there were not unfounded references to the sticky stairwell floors and two temp agencies had refused to send more secretaries because of repeated and explicit quid pro quos. You know, sexual harassment old-style.

    And while ‘while no one says the problems at Mizzou are universal, real enough stuff has been going down on enough of the kids, apparently for quite a while, to the point that there is now an old-style problem with “race relations.” [Shudder just at that old name] In response to which the now-departed president offered to set up a university-wide program to address the issues, next April. And that was the last straw. Dayenu!

    1. SHG Post author

      Black kids get murdered in the streets. Black teens get busted for nothing and spend three years in jail. Black kids get beaten. No, the students at Mizzou have it great. No doubt others have it better, but they still have it great.

      I read the NY Times article too. No one died in it.

      “It can be exhausting when people are making assumptions about you based on your skin color,” said Symone Lenoir, a 23-year-old black senior in interdisciplinary studies. “It can be exhausting feeling like you’re speaking for your entire race.”

      So exhausting, she said, that some mornings she asks herself, “Do I even want to go to class and sit with people?”

      Yeah, they have it great. Imagine how privileged she must be to have this, something so trivial, to complain about.

  8. Franklin Michaels, Jr.

    Quite possibly the world has lowered the expectations of adults, but they failed (for whatever reason) to share the 411 with their kids, when it counted. And as to the grown-ups, let them meditate on that now seldom heard word, progress.

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