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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

A Fragile Cocoon: Are colleges like Carleton hypersensitive?

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I like to say what I feel. Restraining my opinions for the comfort of others has never been a priority of mine. However, what I hate more than anything is when people use the excuse of being opinionated and well read to justify their disrespectful behavior. Although the New York Times article, “In College and Hiding From Scary Ideas,” talks about the importance of challenging your ideas, it also puts intellectualism on a pedestal. I agree that college should be about listening to ideas that may go against your fundamental beliefs, but it should also be acknowledged that for certain people, these academic debates are their reality. Not everyone can be part of an uncomfortable class discussion and simply forget about it; for some people, these discussions follow them every day of their lives.

Last year, I thought the concept of microaggressions was a ridiculous, politically correct idea. I told anyone who would listen that it was a form of thought policing, and that the “safe spaces” supposedly created by this political correctness were really just blankets people could hide under and revert back to their child- hoods. The thing is, I didn’t realize that for many people, safe spaces are the only places where they can talk about their struggles with people who have experienced similar things. Although I believe that tough issues that deal with systematic repression and/or inequality should include all people, there are times when you don’t want to explain why you are feeling angry. There are times when you want to sit with people who understand you, and not defend your feelings or worry if you are making people feel guilty or uncomfortable by simply telling them what you are going through.

Even at liberal institutions like Carleton, safe spaces are mostly just isolated rooms in a world amuck with a careless attitude towards understanding. However, I’m not unrealistic; I know that the world will never be one big safe space. I also know that people in these safe spaces aren’t intrinsically better people; the reason they are more empathetic to certain struggles is because it is their struggle as well. With so many problems in the world, if something doesn’t affect your daily life, it is easy not only to ignore, but also to be ignorant of the problem altogether. Ignorance doesn’t make someone a bad person, but I feel that condemning academic ignorance more than emotional ignorance causes humanity to be seen as less important than trying to find a “universal” truth. Really though, if you want to be “academic,” you would acknowledge that universal truths don’t exist. Everyone’s idea of truth is based off of their feelings. Sure, people’s feelings don’t always seem rational, but that is because they aren’t laid out as a paper for you to read, with a clear introduction, argument, and conclusion. Sadly, us supposedly open-minded college students often want the reasons something offends someone to be summed up as a neat list of insults, given as a defense for someone’s supposed “overreaction.”

Safe spaces aren’t like kindergarten. They don’t instill a dictatorship of time-outs, where everyone who attempts to speak out of turn is put in a corner and made of write lines on the chalkboard over and over, saying what a bad person they are. If done correctly, safe spaces don’t have to be places where only comfortable ideas live. Although I’ve had some experiences in formal safe spaces, such as groups on campus, where every word I said needed to be calculated, most of the time my experiences have ended with at least a respectful wave goodbye. Many have not ended in agreement, but that’s not the point. What made these discussions a success was that we questioned each other’s beliefs without becoming defensive or relying on unfair personal attacks. While safe spaces could be considered exclusionary, I believe they are essential in allowing tough discussions to take place. Although it is also important to not stay within the confines of these insular groups, I think the end objective of safe spaces is to spread respect and kindness to an academic, inaccessible world that views finding the truth as more important. Since at Carleton we often value being right over being kind, maybe we should actually take a lesson from kindergarten and realize that kindness is the ultimate truth. Maybe kindergarten, where we were drilled in testable facts, like two plus two equals four, is where we went wrong.

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