The safe space, Ms. Byron explained, was intended to give people who might find comments “troubling” or “triggering,” a place to recuperate. The room was equipped with cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies, as well as students and staff members trained to deal with trauma. Emma Hall, a junior, rape survivor and “sexual assault peer educator” who helped set up the room and worked in it during the debate, estimates that a couple of dozen people used it. At one point she went to the lecture hall — it was packed — but after a while, she had to return to the safe space. “I was feeling bombarded by a lot of viewpoints that really go against my dearly and closely held beliefs,” Ms. Hall said.Personally my idea of education pretty much equates to being bombarded by viewpoints that go against dearly and closely held beliefs, so I don't know how you could have a university that avoided such mental assaults. (Some of my favorite documents to teach are chronicles of the massacres of Jews that took place in Germany during the First Crusade, and I've never met a student who didn't find them disturbing.) But what really bugs me is the notion that young people and especially young women have to be protected from Bad Things because they are too weak and vulnerable to stand it. Wasn't that the basic position of the patriarchs who fought against educating women or letting them hold any sort of important job? Wasn't it the point of feminism to assert that women can be just as intellectually and morally tough as men? If the presence on campus of a libertarian skeptic of "rape culture" is so upsetting to you that you need to retreat to the pastel room and watch puppy videos, are you really an equal adult?
Some sorts of safe spaces are a familiar part of most campuses, and I don't see anything wrong with them: LGBT clubs where people feel safe in talking about their sexuality, say, or African American clubs and fraternities. Nor do I really think that 19-year-olds are fully adults, and I think that college exists partly to provide a structured and reasonably safe environment to grow up in. But it seems to me that coddling young people can easily be taken too far. As Shulevitch warns,
The notion that ticklish conversations must be scrubbed clean of controversy has a way of leaking out and spreading. Once you designate some spaces as safe, you imply that the rest are unsafe. It follows that they should be made safer.I guess I don't have any problem with students wanting "safe spaces" as long as nobody tries to make my classroom into one.