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The Politics of Safe Space

safe space symbolThis week at my seminary was LGBT Week.  It’s a 10-year-old tradition that has brought a lot of good to our campus, raising awareness and creating a space in which people can talk and share ideas.  I’m proud of my seminary for being open to the possibilities that this week can provide.

I was gone to the AAR annual meeting at the beginning of the week, but when I arrived at work on Wednesday morning, I was greeted by stickers that had been applied to both of the front doors of the library building, declaring the entire building a safe space.  You can click on the image to the right to see the entire text.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about safe spaces.  And at the same time, the politics of creating safe spaces are more complex than simply slapping up some stickers on the entrance of a building.  For both my LGBT friends and our Allies, I’d like to offer some thoughts:

The Seminary Is Not A Safe Space. As an institution of higher learning and the crucible in which future ministers are formed, there are a lot of conflicts within the seminary that disqualify our grounds as a safe space.  Our students, staff, and faculty come from various denominations and even the UCC (the seminary’s denomination) itself contains multiple streams.  Some of us celebrate sexual difference.  Some of us are pretty staunchly anti-gay.  Others think they’re cool with it, but get worried when we talk about it more than once a year.  It is irresponsible to suggest to a person struggling with these issues that the entire seminary is a safe space…

Individuals Within The Seminary Can Create Safe Spaces By Their Own Choices. If you take a look at the language on this sticker, it says that the person displaying the symbol is sending a message.  As such, this is an appropriate symbol to place on or beside a professor’s door, on an administrator’s desk, or even on a student’s notebook in a classroom.  But that’s the decision of the individual to proclaim herself an Ally.  We cannot make that decision for each other.

Safe Spaces Cannot Be Coerced. Within the building where I saw the stickers, there are Allies, queers (myself included), and patrons from the general public whose personal views are simply unknown.  Displaying a sticker that proclaims the entire building a safe space for conversations around LGBT issues sends a message that disagreement will not be tolerated.  For some it can be interpreted as a shot across the bow.  And taken to the extreme, this sort of group-think can breed resentment in folks who feel as though they are being forced to adopt a politically correct stance.

Let’s Embody What We Want To Become. Another issue around posting anything at the campus library is permission.  No one asked to post these stickers — they just showed up.  If anyone can post anything without seeking permission, then what’s to keep objectionable posts from being made?  Most of our students are training to be future pastors — pastors who might feel the need one day to set some boundaries around what sorts of things just get haphazardly posted in the churches where they serve…

Let’s Also Practice Good Stewardship. When the stickers were removed from the doors, they left behind shreds of paper and adhesive backing.  As a place of public space in the seminary with frequent visitors, it makes sense to keep our entranceway clean.  For the future, let’s think about choosing media that we can easily remove without marring surfaces or leaving adhesives that will attract dirt.  This is not only good for the seminary, but is in line with the point above about how our future pastors would like things to run in the congregations that they serve.

Resources

Safe Space poster (print your own)

Safe Space stickers (order online)

One Response to The Politics of Safe Space

  • i was a little shocked to see the stickers placed around. i was happy to see them, but still felt something was off. i think you hit it on the head here and articulated my discomfort.

    RAWK!

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