In a public speaking course I’m taking, one of my classmates gave a speech on “ideological safe spaces.” Essentially, his speech boiled down to what he, and the experts he cited, believe to be a bastardization of the original “safe space” concept. Whereas a “safe space” was initially meant to be an area to keep students safe from harm, there are now many cases of “safe spaces” being used to keep students away from ideologies, views and opinions they disagree with – hence the moniker, “ideological safe space.”
How does this relate to USF specifically? In my time here at USF, I have started to notice hints of it on campus. Personally, I identify as center-left, a typical Democrat, but even that is pretty far to the right compared to the majority population at USF. This is great – one of USF’s trademarks is its left-leaning, progressive environment. However, in a stroke of irony, I feel that there is a significant percentage of students on campus who are very closed-minded and unaccepting of views that differ from their own.
So, on one hand, USF prides itself on being a school that welcomes students of all ideologies, beliefs and preferences… on the other hand, it seems to be geared towards only one specific political group? There is something very inconsistent about that.
I’m lucky because even though I’m more center-left than far-left, I’m still close enough to the majority to be able to openly express my political alignment without any significant backlash. But my brother is a moderate – how would he fare if he were to openly express his beliefs? The classmate who I mentioned previously is a staunch Republican, but when I first asked him about his beliefs, he said he was center-right. Why? Because he didn’t feel comfortable divulging the extent of his political views to someone he didn’t know well at USF. He was correct in a sense: during his speech, he publicly said for the first time on campus that he was Republican. The audience’s attitude immediately shifted. Whereas before they listened with curiosity and attentiveness, they now had looks of dismissal or even annoyance. The topic of the speech hadn’t changed in the slightest, but his minority alignment was now known and that changed the class’ perception. In other words, this school’s core belief in “inclusivity” only applies if you agree with the majority.
To tie this back to his idea of “ideological safe spaces,” I feel that USF has become just that. Rather than acting as a liberal institution that welcomes all beliefs and viewpoints and fosters dialogue and understanding between them, this type of environment favors the majority and shuts down the minority – in this case, the majority being the left and the minority being the right. It almost feels as though USF has become a “safe space” for left-leaning students to not have to engage with, or even debate with, students who are moderate or conservative.
There is a basic and fundamental tenet to political relations that is rooted in mutual respect. Agreement is not necessary, but respect is. It falls on the students, not the staff or faculty or administration, to foster mutual respect between students of different political ideologies. As I said before, I am not conservative. I’m not even a moderate or centrist. I am a member of the political majority here at USF, even if I fall on the fringes of that majority. But a large chunk of responsibility falls on the majority to foster and maintain respectful dialogue between different political groups on campus – not just one.
Featured Photo: There’s nothing wrong with students being liberal. The problem comes when those students don’t tolerate different views. PHOTO ILLUSTRATION/ALI DEFAZIO