No, Northwestern U., safe spaces are not an environment for learning

(Photo via Northwestern University)

In 2016, University of Chicago President Robert Zimmer informed incoming freshman via email to not anticipate safe spaces of any kind on campus and instead expect discomfort. He was hailed as a hero by conservatives and libertarians for finally standing up for free speech at colleges and universities.

Zimmer’s peer uptown, Morton Schapiro, believes the opposite. As president of Northwestern University, he believes they’re actually a great environment for learning.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Schapiro said that while he’s done his best as president for 17 years to protect the First Amendment, he ultimately thinks that people learn best when they have a space to retreat.

“People aren’t voluntarily going to engage in uncomfortable learning unless there’s someplace where they feel safe. It’s as simple as that,” Schapiro said. “I think a lot of people have safe spaces, but they just don’t recognize them in their lives. To think that 18-year-olds don’t deserve some place they can go. Dorms aren’t safe spaces. They’re mixed up with roommates they often don’t like. Dining halls aren’t safe spaces. Classrooms aren’t safe spaces.”

While Schapiro has a point that safe spaces exist for everyone, he’s not connecting the dots that social justice warriors and liberals on campus are often setting up safe spaces in places where they shouldn’t exist. Instead of trying to win arguments on logic and reasoning, liberals often shut down debates that expand learning in classrooms and club meetings and declare them “safe spaces” to protect students from getting their feelings hurt. That’s not how college should operate because that’s not how real life works.

When asked if he would invite Charles Murray or Milo Yiannopoulos to his campus given the amount of pushback they received at Middlebury and UC-Berkeley, respectively, Schapiro seemed to stand by the Constitution’s protection of the rights of both individuals to speak.

“You don’t really protect a community if you shut down dialogue,” Schapiro said. “There’s a legal framework in which we operate. But it isn’t absolute. It would be on a case-by-case basis. You get the facts. A lot of people advise you. But at the end of the day, I’m the president. It’s my responsibility. If I make the right call, good. If I make the wrong call, then maybe I’ll do a better job next time. But again, the Constitution and Bill of Rights have served this country extremely well, and you better have a really good reason to interfere with freedom of speech.”


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