A group of University of Chicago professors have advocated for students to have the freedom to create safe spaces on their campus.
About 150 professors signed a public letter addressed to incoming freshman and published on the student newspaper’s website Tuesday. The letter criticizes university administration for its recent condemnation of safe spaces and trigger warnings.
Safe spaces are areas for students to gather regardless of background, race, gender or sexual orientation. Trigger warnings are notifications of potentially disturbing content.
Professors write that safe spaces are intertwined with gay, civil rights and feminist movements of the mid-20th century, and have provided activists with protection from “real forces of violence and intimidation.”
“They also served as incubators of new ideas away from the censure of the very authorities threatened by these movements,” the letter states. “It would be naïve to think that the University of Chicago is immune from social problems.”
The document comes a few weeks after Dean of Students John Ellison sent a letter to incoming students. That letter denounced the creation of “intellectual safe spaces” and the use of trigger warnings, though university policy does not prohibit either.
“To start a conversation by declaring that such requests are not worth making is an affront to the basic principles of liberal education and participatory democracy,” university professors wrote Tuesday.
Debates over the concept of safe spaces, trigger warnings, and microaggressions in the classroom have erupted on college campuses nationwide.
Months after DePaul University faced public criticism over how it handled the protests of a controversial guest speaker, the North Side school published a “Speech and Race Action Plan” with over 40 initiatives to improve race relations on campus.
The president of Northwestern University has also weighed in on the conversation, offering a letter in defense of safe spaces.
University of Chicago professor Shannon Dawdy said in an email that professors aren’t necessarily advocating for the creation of safe spaces, but “for academic freedom to make such requests and the autonomy of the faculty-student relationship.”
“Safe spaces and the issues they bring up should be points for open discussion, not closed policy,” Dawdy said.
Mariah Woelfel reports for the WBEZ news desk. Follow her @mariahwoelfel.