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Overview and commentary on UMass journalism professor’s view on ‘safe spaces’

by on December 1, 2015

Shaheen Pasha recently posted on Medium about her understanding of ‘safe spaces’ and the recent reformation they have experienced nationally, as a result of campus protests.

Pasha explains right away that college is not intended to be a safe space. She says, “It was never intended to be. It is a place where debates can turn heated and ugly and the cruel realities of the world come crashing down on students, preparing them for the very real discourse they will face upon graduation.” I agree with this.

While college can be seen as almost an incubator period between adolescence and entering the world as an ‘adult’, students encounter very real and disturbing realities of society. Pasha explains her personal experiences with racial discrimination and various other commonalities that college students unfortunately face.

Pasha goes onto explains the correlation between the baring of reporters from a ‘safe space’ at the University of Missouri and the local actions at Smith College and Amherst College to be a naive chain reaction. I believe, like Pasha, that these protests are proactive and are intended to bring justice, but banning the media is not going to aid the protesters in their goals.

It is hypocritical for protestors to disregard the the constitutional rights that allow them to protest are the same rights that allow journalists to cover them, which Pasha also explains. She explains that at Smith College, media was entirely banned from covering the event unless they expressed outright support for it. Pasha comments, “No journalists, trained in the ethics of the profession with any sense of personal integrity should agree to support any cause in order to report it.”

I whole-heartedly agree with Pasha’s reasoning. The moment a journalist chooses a side, so to speak, they automatically have abandoned their objectivity on the issue. Objectivity is always the goal among journalists and even the protestors, the fear is just that the truth does not get accurately reported. That is always fear but there needs to be trust in the reporters otherwise because at the end of the day, not having an event be reported on will damage the credibility of an event more-so than a mistake or two in the reporting.

Despite the backlash against journalists and media that a lot of people have, as seen in recent college campuses, the media still holds a power. The power may seem like it is over the public despite the intention of it being for the public. There will obviously be bad things and differences of opinion but that is how society is. The world is full of disagreeing people and college is a space that for give some people their first exposure to understanding that, as Pasha explains initially.

As an aspiring journalist and a complete novice in the field, I have already encountered people’s mistrust of our kind. I have had sources grow discomforted and interviews fallen flat because of their paranoia about me presenting them in the wrong light. On the contrary, I have had sources sit back and relax and then grow angered at my article reflecting that. It’s a fine line that journalists have to run and I don’t think we all get enough credit for how hard we do try to get it right and remain objective.

That being said, college is a good space to take those initial bay steps and develop a thick skin that Pasha warns our generation of journalists will need, like our predecessors did too, going out into the world and working. There are enough opinions and subjectivity already in the world, so people should learn that journalism is perhaps the ultimate safe space where they can trust their voices to be reported accurately and objectively.

Granted there are many oppressive factors due to systems in society that prevent people’s voices from getting heard but journalists can’t control that. They can only try and report on protests and other social movements truthfully that are fighting for that equality.

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4 Comments
  1. I could not agree more with Shaheen Pasha’s take on ‘safe spaces’ and that college is not intended to be a safe space where no debates, arguments, or disagreements will take place. The New York Daily News recently published an article about Everett Piper, the president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, saying, “This is not a day care … This is a university!” This is what most ‘politically correct’ students are acting like when requesting safe spaces at colleges and universities. It won’t happen because that is not the purpose that college is supposed to serve students who are aiming to prepare for the workforce.

    Piper’s arguments are in response to the same political protests that Pasha is referencing due to cultural and racial tension. Although he is talking from a small, private evangelical Christian university, his words could not be more truthful. University presidents should not have to resign over these issues. College students are making people lose their jobs because the need to have certain safe spaces. Everyone agrees that discrimination is wrong. There is no denying this; however, issues like this should not create college students to act in immature ways.

    He also said, “Our culture has actually taught our kids to be this self-absorbed and narcissistic!” No school is a safe space, and no one should act like it is or should be. It is saddening to see that some students do not understand that college is a place to learn, and as Piper said, that they should learn to grow up. Hopefully more people share these views of Pasha and Piper. Many people around the country are realizing that these protests are not conducted in the right way and people should realize the reality of college, and society.

  2. I also agree fully with Shaheen Pasha’s view on safe spaces. I have also seen other people comment on this type of idea including the president Barack Obama. I think that UMass (especially the Journalism department) does a great job of immersing young adults into the real world. There are no “trigger warnings” or “safe spaces” once you emerge from college life so why be coddled here? It’s almost a ridiculous notion to think about.

  3. I agreed with a lot of Pashas sentiments. However, I also think that she is misrepresenting what a safe space actually is. She’s right in saying college is a place to grow in experience, to participate in uncomfortable debates, to be exposed to discomfiting things. She’s completely right in saying that protesters should not be placing their first amendment rights over the media’s. I’m not disagreeing with any of her points or your points. However, a safe space is NOT any of the above. I think that it is wrong to be implying and enforcing this definition onto the term ‘safe space’. I think that the blame of this misrepresentation falls on both the protesters and the journalists.
    I think it’s a huge shame that safe spaces have been warped into meaning this segregating, opinion-objecting space. In simple definition, it’s a space that has been established as a place where minority groups whose voices have been silenced can be heard. It’s a place that you step into acknowledging that the societal isms (racism, sexism, ableism, etc.) are a detrimental part of society.

    As for the comment above, so Julia, there are no safe spaces or trigger warnings after college life? There are plenty of places that support anti-racism and sexism at work and provide resources for those who are experiencing ti. There are plenty of places of work that will respect a person’s preferred pronouns and support unionization- because that’s what a safe space is. It’s not infringing on someone’s first amendment rights or “coddling” people. Also, implying that because the “real world” isn’t fair and so we should all just toughen up and get used to it antithetical to enacting change in the systems we have in place. Why isn’t the world ‘fair’ ? Because our society was built on a backbone of racism and sexism. Marginalized groups do not have the same steps in a ladder to climb up in this society. The answer is not to cite what comes after college as being something to assimilate into, no questions asked. As journalists, one of our goals is to inform people so that they may make informed decisions, such as to change policies in this country that were bought by corporations. We should not just be getting used to what we have. What we have is a corrupt society built by and for white men.

  4. I want to argue Julia’s point that we are being “coddled” by creating safe spaces, which would include content warnings with certain subject matter in university courses. I think articles, literature, etc. should use content warnings as a device to help those who desperately need them and who can better function with them.

    Recently, I read Octavia Butler’s book “Parable of the Sower” for one of my courses. My professor warned my peers and me that there were mentions of rape, sexual assault, violence. I was so appreciative that she did so, because I could mentally and emotionally prepare myself for subject matter that, had I not been prepared to see or hear about, would have triggered an emotional response from my own PTSD.

    I understand that this is an issue personal to me, and that may mean I am biased, but I do find that there is validity in safe spaces and content warnings. It is a common misconception that when a teacher informs students of potential triggers, that a student is missing out on analyzing triggering but very important information, but this is untrue — students are still expected to follow the material and do their work like their peers, but they are able to prepare themselves for what can be triggering material. Professor Kate Manne describes it well: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/20/opinion/sunday/why-i-use-trigger-warnings.html

    I also understand that it is a journalist’s job to report on the events of the real world and there is value to the preparation as a college student to be immersed in uncomfortable debates, but I disagree with Julia that the real world does not have a safe space and that students do not deserve it in a university setting.

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