Safe Spaces must be Outlined to Combat the Rise of Traumatic Events

Photo: Nyumburu Cultural Center, also known as the “Freedom House” located on University of Maryland’s campus.

We Need to Define a Safe Space.


In the wake of recent tragedies such as Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the recent massacre in Las Vegas, and other disasters that have transpired in the last month, the world has been shocked numb.

There are too many terrible things happening so quickly, but it seems as if we are all expected to move on without fully processing what’s happening around us.

Because of the diversity present on college campuses, some of these events can be more triggering to parts of the greater community than others. For this reason, universities around the country have started to discuss the designation of physical spaces around campuses for students to process trauma when such events occur. At the University of Wisconsin Madison among other schools such as Kent State University, the University of South Carolina, and James Madison University, the Multicultural Student Center has become “an important support system” for many minority students on campus.

While some people agree with this model, others see it as a form of oversensitivity on the part of the students.

At a taping of the Kojo Nnamdi Show last week on WAMU 88.5 FM, radio host Nnamdi held a panel during his segment “Kojo In Your Community” at Busboys and Poets in Hyattsville about this topic of safe spaces.

Members of the panel, including Dr. Rashawn Ray of the UMD Sociology department, debated the necessity of these spaces on campus and in the classroom. One issue that came up frequently was the line between free speech and hate speech, and trying to determine the difference between the two.

Dr. Ray introduced the idea of brave spaces in his classrooms where he pushes students to listen and understand experiences through others, in order to see multiple perspectives on an issue. In contrast, Dr. Jeremy Mayer of George Mason University suggested that because ideas are dangerous in nature, we shouldn't make any attempt to censor ideas but instead encourage differences of ideas and discourse over those ideas.

While I believe both points of view are poignant, I think that the purpose of having the classroom  designated as a safe space is to make all students feel as if they can learn in a comfortable environment. This would include a freedom from persecution due to identity, and a sensitivity to current events whether local or international, regardless of how traumatic.

While ignorance to cultural differences often gets in the way of this, hateful speech--regardless of intent--has no place in a classroom (much less a school). It is not the responsibility of the minority students who feel threatened to educate their peers on how to be civil. Debates can happen, but when the language becomes disrespectful it crosses the line.

Outside of the classroom, physical space should be designated to students of minority identity on campus to function as an escape from trauma. UMD’s Nyumburu Cultural Center, also known as the “Freedom House,” serves this purpose for the black student population on campus, but what about Asian American or Latinx students? Where is their freedom house?

No matter how “safe” you can make a student feel in the classroom, just being a minority student in college is enough to inspire anxiety; much less if there is a student speaking disrespectfully about you.

It seems as if every week there is some sort of disaster attacking society, whether it be natural or an act of terrorism. If every minority club and greek organization on campus met with the administration to designate spaces for different communities, we could have spaces for all different identities on campus.

With so many traumatic events are happening rapidly, how can we act if there's no place for us to understand what's happening around us?

You can listen to the recorded show on the show’s website: