Making room for expression

Safe spaces are areas where people can come together to express their opinions and feel safe in sharing with others. Ana Contreras Orozco/The USD Vista

Lilyana Espinoza | News Editor | The USD Vista

Students discuss the pros and cons of safe spaces within USD’s campus

Colleges worldwide have become divided through differences of opinion. This is especially seen in reactions from students when controversial speakers have appeared on their campuses.

Earlier this year, riots broke out at the University of California, Berkeley campus before guest speaker Milo Yiannopoulos’ scheduled appearance. Some argued that Yiannopoulos had no right to express his messages. Others said that although they do not necessarily agree with his points of view, he has the right to speak without retaliation. There are also those who fully support Yiannopoulos’ opinions and statements and were outraged by the protests.

A similar reaction occurred at California State University, Los Angeles when controversial conservative Ben Shapiro was scheduled to speak. This specific speech targeted topics such as safe spaces as a suppression of free speech. The school’s Young America’s Foundation invited Shapiro to campus — however, because of aggressive backlash and protest from students and faculty, Shapiro was escorted off the campus by police due to safety concerns.

These events have magnified the attention given to safe spaces and the support they can provide to students. Safe spaces are areas where people can come together to feel comfortable expressing themselves and receiving support from others.

At the University of San Diego, students have varying opinions on safe spaces with regard to freedom of speech.

Brett Filippin, public relations executive for USD College Republicans, said he thinks every member of the community has the right to voice their opinions, including speakers with controversial views

“I think it’s best that intellectual ideas are defeated intellectually,” Filippin said.

Filippin considers the USD College Republicans as a place where students can speak their minds.

“We have a policy where everybody who comes in has their freedom for speech and freedom of expression,” Filippin said. “That means they are not relegated for having views that are ‘against Republican ideals.’ Students are not harassed, students shouldn’t expect to be treated differently on a personal level, so we are a safe space in that way. We are not a safe space in the sense that we regulate speech. We protect hate speech. We do not appreciate hate speech, we do not support hate speech, but we protect hate speech as a part of free speech.”

USD Democrats also find their organization as a safe space on USD’s campus.

Angel Jimenez, president of USD Democrats, describes their safe space as a place to discuss various topics.

“The goal of the USD Democrats is to have a safe and open space so that members of the organization have a place to come together and talk about a wide variety of things,” Jimenez said. “Some of those conversations may be about school, work, home life, and of course, politics.”

USD provides many physical spaces on campus that are not strictly political, such as the Black Student Union (BSU) and PRIDE, for people to share their experiences.

Co-president of BSU, Maryan Abdi, saw safe spaces as a place where students can freely express their ideas without retaliation.

“I feel that it is a place where you can freely exchange your ideas but in a respectful manner that there is no personal attacks, but you are actually speaking out against an issue and leaning toward progress and supporting each other,” Abdi said.

Kyra Anderson, the other co-president of BSU, shared that BSU is a place of inclusion where everyone is welcome and supported during their college journeys.

“In BSU, we set that standard in the beginning to let people know we are a family,” Anderson said. “We are in this together. We have to lean on each other, and we want everyone to be represented within the organization, so we welcome everybody, everyone’s view, or everyone’s voice.”

PRIDE President Christopher Harrop saw safe spaces as places to be oneself, but also places where it is important to have opposing opinions.

“To me, a safe space is a place where I can be my full, authentic self without fear of harassment or recrimination,” Harrop said. “However, safe spaces are not the same thing as echo chambers. I think it’s important for safe spaces to foster constructive, respectful dialogues even when disagreements arise.”

Many student leaders also mentioned that, although people with opposing opinions do have the right to free speech in and out of these safe spaces, USD is a private university and has some power over the speakers who present here.

Jimenez is glad that USD is able to turn away people who highlight what many people consider to be hate speech.

“I’m glad that I’m a member of an institution like the University of San Diego that understands that hate speech has consequences and no place in intellectual dialogue,” Jimenez said. “Freedom of speech does not equate from freedom from consequence.”

PRIDE has dealt with backlash from its drag show, but Harrop emphasizes PRIDE won’t refrain from hosting the event, because he and his fellow members see the show as an important community event.

“Each year when PRIDE plans our drag show, many elements of the show must be thoroughly vetted by the administration, including performers’ performances and the drag queen we invite to emcee the show,” Harrop said. “We know what it feels like to have our events protested. However, we don’t back down from inviting guest speakers or from holding events because it’s extremely important for us to publicly claim and embrace the presence of the LGBTQ+ community on campus.”

Harrop found that USD allows opposing views and opinions to be heard, but the voices are not acknowledged as they should be.

“I feel that the administration strives to let voices be heard, but often it feels like student voices get lost going up against the bureaucratic red tape of trying to initiate change on campus,” Harrop said.

Anderson said that overall, USD does a good job of allowing freedom of expression, but lacks on taking action.

“I feel like they always allow us [to speak], however there is no follow-up,” Anderson said. “I would speak my mind, but then it would fall on deaf ears. [USD] means well because they are giving me the opportunity, they are actively listening to me. But then I am left to take up that work alone.”

Jimenez recognized that a safe space does not mean the blindness to contrary opinion.

“A safe space is a place I can go to express my thoughts without fear of negative repercussion,” Jimenez said. “But I am also a political realist and understand that a university setting is not intellectually a safe space — your ideas will be challenged.  Life outside of USD is not a safe space, so we must be prepared to take on life’s challenges — as burdensome as they may be — with boldness, vigor, and intellectualism.”

Other students believed that safe spaces are detrimental to universities because they can block out opposing views.

Junior Cody Anderson-Parks, who is not affiliated with any political organization on campus, said he believes that safe spaces do more harm than good.

“I think as a whole safe spaces harm higher education,” Anderson-Parks said. ”It is literally a suppression of freedom of speech and freedom of expression at its core because you are allowing certain people who find certain things offensive to just cut it out of their reality. The fact is that in the real world people are going to say things that you don’t always agree with and you are going to have to deal with them. I think that  allowing people to have a retreat where they can go to where there is a suppression of anything offensive whatsoever is just irresponsible.”

At the same time, Anderson-Parks found reasons for designated spaces to benefit certain groups of people.

“I think there are certain reasons where a controlled discussion would be beneficial, such as traumas of combat veterans or sexual assault survivors or racism,” Anderson-Parks said. “I think those are all instances where people who have opinions that are offensive, they disallow those people from talking about their experiences. But as a whole I think that it hurts everybody when you don’t have an open discussion with everyone able to insert their opinion if they would like to.”

Jimenez believes the communication gap has the potential to be solved.

“The solution would be to communicate and also put differences aside,” Jimenez said. “There is a bigger world out there outside of USD where we have to learn to work together to benefit society whether we like it or not.”

By having more conversations about the way students choose to express their opinions, students can bridge the gap between differences of opinion to discuss important topics.