I was at a dinner party with a number of elite private colleges administrators and professors when the discussion turned to campus “Safe Spaces”.
Everyone seemed to agree that college “Safe Spaces” was an abdication of the college’s responsibility to teach and provide a place for for open inquiry but that promoting safe spaces provided administrative cover for the social media firestorm that can be ignited by a few tweets, YouTube videos and/or other social media instigation.
After thinking about the discussion, it seems that the real answer to what colleges and other institutions should be providing is a framework for “Safe Conversations”.
“Safe Conversations” mandate that people talk to each other rather than disappear into their own Safe Space where they never learn to engage with others who do not agree with them.
A Safe Conversation:
- can be messy (but not make anyone feel emotionally at risk)
- can have disruptive ideas (but not be disruptive or engage in harmful actions)
- can be disagreeable (but not hostile or make anyone feel physically at risk)
In order to achieve the ability to converse about difficult ideas or concepts, a Safe Conversation has certain rules or etiquette and this is what should be taught on college campuses.
Safe Conversation rules and etiquette include:
- Trying to find areas of compromise and understanding
- Keeping the conversation centered around the idea rather than making it about a person or individual
- Providing multiple solutions
The skills learned in Safe Conversations are lifelong skills that are required in order to become successfully integrated into society. Safe Space skills are no longer required and maybe a hindrance once leaving the enclosed and elite atmosphere of an elite educational institution.
And, the most important skill of all maybe the skill to respectfully disagree and then move onto ways to continue to cooperate.