Counterpoint to "Safe Space Generation"
Updated: Jan 11, 2019
I must applaud Nielsen for his use of political cartoons and the phrase "prima facie".
Unfortunately, I have little else to congratulate about the opinion he espoused in his article “Safe Space Generation.” If our Universities are failing us, it is for far bigger and more systemic flaws than the safe space model of wellness. Granted my friend is giving opinion, however, I can't help but find his complete lack of reference to any research alarming. It is also shocking that someone so educated and, more importantly, so smart, would go on such a tirade without exploring the philosophy behind safe spaces in more depth than a flippant sentence about hiding when hungover and a wiktionary definition.
Safe spaces and PASS are about coping with addiction, stress, and other mental health issues. The physical symptoms that we see and judge tell us little about the real issues a person may be struggling with. PASS isn't a place to toke up. It isn't a space to sleep it off. It’s a place to come to suffer through the physical fallout of substance abuse, often used as a means of coping with deeper struggles. Safe spaces (different than PASS) are about being somewhere judgement-free. They are for people who are outside the status quo, often frequented by the #LGBTQ2+ community and other minority groups. Groups into which the majority – white, middle-class, heterosexual- often have little insight.
In my time as a Human Resources representative across several industries, I witnessed the
growth of safe spaces in the workplace. Especially workplaces that have multiple shifts and/or a more diverse employee base. They go by different names - from quiet room to wellness room – but they are based on the same concept. Safe spaces are used by Tom, coming off his day shift at Walmart to take a nap before his night shift in data entry starts. Safe spaces are used by Jenny when she has a scent triggered migraine and needs silence for 20 minutes while her medications kick in. Safe spaces are used by Moe when it's time for prayers and he needs the room to lay out his mat and face Mecca. Safe spaces are used by Andrea when she needs to call her daughter and talk her down from a panic attack before her big geometry exam.
Some people may believe that safe spaces have been co-opted by those "crushing" alcohol in
their undergrad who are too hungover to be human, but they serve a purpose further reaching and important. Let's not lose sight of this.
So, how does cannabis slot into this? I can only assume the issue frustrating my friend is recreational and not medicinal use. College is a time where young adults need to figure out how to manage access to alcohol and other substances on their own. The university, as my friend aptly alludes to, is not a substitute parent. It is, however, to a certain extent, liable for the health and safety of their students. Banning things, ignoring things, or wagging their finger at students doesn't work. With this reality, what is a responsible institution to do? Mitigate the effects on other students and do their best to keep everyone safe and aware of the resources available to them. That's how safe spaces, PASS, and cannabis fit together.
Further to this, the university environment is far from the real world. I have yet to encounter or hear of a school or program that actually preps students for the real world. Academia is like a reality TV show. It's staged. The people are real, but the situations are manufactured. University is about teaching the basic substance of a school of thought. Beyond that it prepares you for little. If anyone is looking to walk out the doors of the law school ready to practice and feeling like they are already a lawyer, they will likely suffer a steel-toe clad kick to the gut and find themselves crawling to the nearest safe space to lay down until they get their breath back.
By Kristin McDonald