Thursday, 27 October 2016

Safe Space

I am not sure how campus "safe spaces" are a good preparation for adult life. My high school was one big "safe space" for Catholic girls with strict parents who felt that they shouldn't have to know about the seamy side of life, and thus university was a ginormous shock.

Fortunately, there was a Catholic college which was at that time a relatively safe space for Catholics, somewhere to retreat to after listening to anti-Catholic remarks in classes (e.g.  in "Twentieth Century Canadian Poetry") and reading anti-Catholic opinions in other college papers. I distinctly recall one undergrad opinion that a university shouldn't have a Catholic college anyway. Wasn't it obvious that Catholic college was an oxymoron? Etc. A dissident (i.e. anti-Catholic ) Catholic newspaper didn't show up at St. Mike's until my last year, and then I cried.

In terms of getting a breather from men, there was always the women's washrooms and a "Women's Centre", too. There wasn't anywhere you could get away from people of other races, if you were racist enough to want one, like these kids at UC-Berkeley.

Naturally, there were clubs for Serbs and Croats and various other ethnic groups but in theory you didn't have to be accepted as a member of that ethnic group to be accepted as a member of the club. I do not recall there being a student club for white Anglo-Saxons, although  some clubs might have been primarily of interest to white Anglo-Saxons. Unfortunately there were at least rumours of rivalries between ethnic-based clubs--during the civil wars in former Yugoslavia, for example. And half a generation later, I heard that Italian-speaking former child refugees to Italy were not instantly grasped to an Italian Club's bosom.

One great place to be a Catholic on the increasingly Political Correct campus was the Newman Centre. I am hazy on the racial make-up of my Catholic college, but I clearly remember the multiracial nature of the Newman although nobody (to my knowledge) ever dwelt on it. It was life in Toronto as normal; in fact, it was a bit like being back at Catholic high school, only with boys. The U of T Pro-life Club was, of course, multiracial--which we did think about, as this contradicted the pro-ab myth that pro-lifers were "sexist, racist, anti-gay, born again bigots."

Yes, I can see having a "safe space" on campus for those whose religious identity makes them a target for right-on student activists. Certainly the Newman was one of the few places on campus I would feel safe wearing a "pro-life" button. However, it would have seemed rather cowardly to call it a "safe space". It was more of a campus club, a club for Catholics on campus and any non-Catholic (but open-minded, obviously) guests who came to a lecture or for tea.

When I returned to U of T as a graduate student in theology, I was a big fan of "Women Only Hour" in the weight room because during all the other hours the gym was rather crowded. The problem of the male attendant staring at me, the hockey team and the women in hijab was solved when I made a complaint. (His desk was moved so that he couldn't see us. And, yes, he really did stare. It was creepy.)

I suppose "Women's Only Hour" was a way of providing "safe space", and in light of the Berkeley protest, I feel a bit weird about that now.  On the other hand, some young men in weight rooms do behave in rather odd ways around women--mostly to show off in front of other young men, which is distracting and annoying. There is a strong biology-based tension between men and women of child-bearing age---which is why, really, there should be "safe spaces" for women, which used to be called "the ladies'".

No campus "the ladies'" is complete, incidentally, without a comfortable chair (or, even better, a sofa) and a box on the wall providing sanitary napkins. It should always be a place where a woman can have a good cry or respond adequately to hygienic emergencies.  Yes, I am a great fan of the women's loo, and I am frankly amazed that in the age of the "safe space", men are now allowed in.

By the time I was a graduate student in theology, I had twigged that the whole point of being at university was to study and get the best possible grades, so that is what I did. As far as being protected from other people--or thinking about other people--there is nothing like a carrel in a library covered with your books and papers. And this is what I would recommend to anyone who goes to university--especially a university in which some students are openly racist or violently shut down free speech. Find a clubhouse where you can unwind and chat about what you believe in without being attacked by self-righteous toads, but above all, find a good quiet corner of a library where you can study your brains out.

Incidentally, the funny part of the Berkeley story is where the activists demand that the bookstore be evicted. Obviously books--new books that someone can buy--have no place in academia.

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