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Safe Space Generation – Shielding Ourselves from Reality


With the legalization of cannabis, the University of Calgary has published its policy with respect to the consumption and control of cannabis on campus. The University of Calgary’s Cannabis Policy comes into effect on October 17, 2018.


What was predictable, unfortunately, was the unveiling of the expansion of the Post Alcohol Support Space (PASS) to include students who have “toked” too much marijuana and need an area to avoid the repercussions of their decisions. This is a fancy term for what is in actuality a “safe space”. I would be lying if I said I hadn’t crushed my share of alcohol in my undergraduate years. And when cannabis becomes legal, Canadians and U of C students are free to toke their way into the comfy part of the couch and coat themselves with potato chip crumbs as they please.


But the greater issues here are: What are universities for, if not to prepare us for our future? Are our universities failing us? Are “safe spaces” shielding students from the realities of life, thereby leading them to be ill-prepared for their post-university experience?


What are universities for, if not to prepare us for our future?

Many people describe the university experience as life training, not job training. And I can agree with that to a certain extent. Being an Arts graduate, it’s not like employers were lining up to take me in upon graduation. Yet, it’s undeniable that obtaining an undergraduate degree is a necessary step to higher-income employment in many fields. It would seem that obtaining a degree should provide some value in preparing us for our future careers. To this end, PASS seemingly portrays that students are basically automatons that can’t make rational decisions on their own. The University is enabling their failure upon entering the realities of the working world:


" We know telling someone not to take a substance doesn’t work. It’s about educating people.”

- Debbie Buckner, U of C’s Senior Director of Student Wellness.


One of vital differences between university and high school is that students are now adults. They can vote. They can legally drink (and smoke marijuana very soon). They often find themselves free of the grip of their parents.  Soon they will have to pay rent, taxes, and someday support a family while holding down a job. PASS is a “safe space” that shields students from the repercussions of their poor decisions. Not just that, but poor decisions that were made contrary to the Cannabis Policy of the University of Calgary.


Are students being encouraged to grow as individuals when they knowingly have a safety net to fall back onto when they make poor decisions? Based on the PASS model, students are not being held accountable for their actions, and may not benefit in terms of personal growth. Furthermore, this may encourage future poor decision-making, and seemingly poor consequences when such a safety net no longer exists after university.


This of course doesn’t include other so-called “safe spaces”, which are defined as: “a place or environment in which a person or category of people can feel confident that they will not be exposed to discrimination, criticism, harassment, or any other emotional or physical harm.”


Key words; criticism, harassment, emotional harm. Folks, you’re going to be exposed to these categories, and frankly even the other categories, as a consequence of merely existing. Is this really a surprise? You’re going to have to deal with them, regardless of their wrongness. Example: Going to war and engaging in combat really sucks. People will probably die. So, does our army train its soldiers to only engage in peaceful conduct? After all, that’s the better scenario. Or does our army train our soldiers to fight, and prepare for the possibility, even reality, that they will need to use those skills in the unfortunate scenario of combat at some point? Just because a scenario is prima facie more comfortable, it doesn’t mean we should limit our preparation to dealing solely with that scenario.


Universities should serve to prepare us for the realities of our future in the workforce. The encouragement of “safe spaces” suggests they currently prepare us for the illusions of a “nerf-padded” life, without consequences for our actions.

Are our universities failing us? Yes. As much as we’ve been coddled as minors and dependants heading into university, the coddling is now continuing into our university days. PASS, and encouraging other “safe spaces” where snowflakes can recede into to avoid opinions, arguments, and policies that run contrary to their own worldview, is not preparing students for success. The reality is, you will have to deal with unpleasant people and situations once you leave the safe confines of university. The workforce is competitive. Life is challenging. There won’t be safe spaces to help you.


Are “safe spaces” shielding students from the realities of life that they will soon face?


Yes. To put it bluntly, when students enter the workforce, their employers are going to have limited, if any, patience for a “safe space” mentality. Dealing with difficult or upsetting information will not be an excuse for opting out of a job. There won’t be safe spaces to recede into when a co-worker confronts you about poor work, or when you’re selected as counsel for a corporation with a seemingly poor environmental track record. If you show up to work “blitzed” out of your mind, it’s unlikely that employers will direct you to a unicorn-like “safe space” where you can come down from your high. Expect to be fired. You clearly don’t take your job seriously.


So what?


When our university encourages “safe spaces”, which discourage learning and growing, how can we expect to be prepared for life’s difficulties ahead? “Safe spaces” contradict how we learn and grow; through hearing uncomfortable facts, seeing upsetting images, and experiencing difficult situations. We can’t push aside these incontrovertible truths of life outside our post-secondary institutions. Why must our universities shield us from life’s difficulties within their walls?


Written By Nielsen Beatty