Education

College Diversity Official: The Problem Isn’t Safe Spaces, It’s Bigots!

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Blake Neff Reporter
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A diversity officer at Williams College authored a piece for The Washington Post arguing that campus phenomena such as “safe spaces” and suppressing “offensive” speech should be extended to the world at large.

“‘Coddled’ students and their ‘safe spaces’ aren’t the problem,” says the headline for a Monday piece by Ferentz Lafargue, director of the Davis Center at Williams. “Bigots are.”

Colleges have increasingly attracted criticism and ridicule for the substantial lengths they go to in order to protect students’ psyches. Just in the past three months, Emory University saw a blow-up over pro-Donald Trump sidewalk chalk, the University of Michigan supplied a safe space for students upset over a conservative speaker and at Bowdoin College, the campus came almost unglued after some people wore sombreros to a tequila-themed party.

But Lafargue sees little wrong with those blow-ups, saying they should be more common in the real world.

“[W]hether one is suspicious of the merits of college as a whole or cynical about the existence of ‘safe spaces,’ the truth of the matter is that ‘coddled’ college students aren’t the problem,” says Lafargue. “The real culprits — on campuses and in the real world — are the persistent effects of homophobia, income inequality, misogyny, poverty, racism, sexism, white supremacy and xenophobia.”

“The real world is full of anti-Semitism, homophobia, sexism and racism,” he says. “The question is: Do we prepare students to accept the world as it is, or do we prepare them to change it?”

“When students refuse to accept discrimination on college campuses, they’re learning important lessons about how to fight it everywhere,” he adds at the end.

Lafargue can draw on local experience when he talks about fighting “discrimination.” Williams president Adam Falk prohibited a speaking appearance by writer John Derbyshire in February, declaring that his controversial racial views were hate speech and that he shouldn’t be allowed to publicly express them. In 2015, feminism critic Suzanne Venker had her invitation to speak withdrawn after the event’s Facebook page was inundated with hostility. Coincidentally, both speakers had been invited by a campus group dedicated to exposing students to uncomfortable ideas.

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