Re-examining Safe Spaces

Avital Isaacs

To the Editors:

William Elman’s letter to the editors in the last Review [“Safe Spaces Impede Interaction,” Nov. 20] seems to tread over familiar rhetorical territory, rather than address new “trends” in Oberlin’s culture. It may seem to him, and others, that Oberlin’s safe spaces exist as a politically correct inconvenience, an impediment in daily activities and to the pursuit of cultural knowledge. It may seem as though safe spaces promote “self-segregation,” which is antithetical to his understanding of Oberlin as a progressive community.

My understanding of safe spaces is that they exist to address and provide a counterbalance to the daily discomfort and lack of access (not to mention increased potential for violence) that, in this specific case, women and transgendered people experience. It may feel exclusive to have safe spaces until one realizes that the community we live in is a safe space for heterosexual white males, and the niches that are specified otherwise are the exception and not the rule. It seems to me that the author of this letter is frustrated that more women and transgendered people are not seeking him out for open dialogue. I would urge him to find inroads that are not solely on his terms: the MRC organizes a series of Trans Training Workshops throughout the semester that provide students with an understanding of trans issues and skills for allyship, for example.

The process of proactively seeking out experiences rather than expecting divergent points of view to present themselves is a difficult one, which is precisely why it is so important. The frustration that William Elman felt when he was unable to get his bike fixed or climb a rock wall when he wanted is a great jumping off point for engaging in the desire for these meaningful interactions. They may not occur in a context in which he feels comfortable, or familiar, or in control — and that is okay. There is a lot of power in simply listening.

–Avital Isaacs
College senior