Sunny with a Chance of Cynicism: Safe Spaces

Libby Salemi, Columnist

I went for a run the other day with a couple friends, and an interesting conversation ensued between the three of us. It started with us getting to know a lot about each other’s family and friends, which I found enlightening. But 40 minutes into the run, the conversation took a turn for the, well, I guess you could say hostile. Somehow the conversation turned to talking about safe spaces and whether or not they were necessary.

Personally, I find safe spaces to be incredibly essential to our Oberlin community. Not necessarily because I’ve found myself needing them, but because I know that, especially after

last year’s bias incidents, they’ve be- come much more essential and ben- eficial to the people around me. So when someone who’s white, cisgender and heterosexual tells me they don’t think safe spaces need to exist, I get a little heated and may use phrases such as “go suck one.”

What I’m realizing now is that while this was a completely legitimate gut reaction, it probably wasn’t the best phrasing to use with someone who has little to no personal experience with these issues. In reality, she did nothing wrong. It was just unfortunate for her that she chose to discuss the issue with someone who’s had to discuss it a million times before with people just like her. I tend to get a little tense when people ask me ignorant questions. And by that I simply mean questions I feel everyone should know the answer to.

The whole experience sucks; anyone who’s been there knows that it’s awkward and worthy of a few winc- es. But the thing is, the questions are coming from ignorance, not stupidity or malice. My friends genuinely want to understand, and here I am yelling at them until they’re afraid to ask any more questions. And it’s not just straight kids, it’s any person who’s had little exposure to another person’s culture. Instead of trying to help my friends understand, I get defensive and argumentative. This may, in fact, be the opposite of what I want to do.

Still, I understand the need for some people to get defensive. If you don’t want to talk about these is- sues to better the life of someone who doesn’t quite understand your culture, that’s completely respectable. It’s not any one person’s job to make someone with privilege feel more at ease. This is the exact reason that I sometimes let myself get away with telling a few straight kids to “go suck one.” But we’re all human in the end, and naturally we screw up and say the wrong thing. I know this better than anyone and that’s why I think Ineedtostepitupabit. Instead of getting heated about the ignorance of my straight friends, I need to just tell them in a straightforward fashion what’s happening in the world of the gays and what they can do to accommodate it.

This is something that I think we as Oberlin students sometimes have trouble with. We’re so quick to jump up and be the most politically correct, but it doesn’t do any good for the kids who don’t have it all down yet. Isn’t that part of the reason we’re all here? This is supposed to be a very accepting school; that’s a reputation that shouldn’t be brought down by our personal desires to win the award for being the most politically correct.

We should be quicker to educate the ignorant, rather than to attack them. People should be allowed to ask questions and maybe instead of biting their heads off the first chance we get, we should help them to understand.