The Difference Between Safe and Exclusive

On Sept. 22, Professor Richard Greggory Johnson III of the School of Management published a critical essay of LGBTQ-exclusive campus spaces, like LGBTQ-only dorms, on the website Inside Higher Education. However, this critique comes from a well-informed opinion. Johnson III is a social equity professor in the areas of race, gender, sexual orientation and social class. The central argument of the essay establishes that LGBTQ-exclusive spaces, “won’t get us closer to an equal, open society.” This argument has particular weight in a community with a broad spectrum of sexual orientations and identities. The publishing of this article prompted me to consider if his argument was valid and if LGBTQ-exclusive spaces, like LGBT-only dorms or floors, are detrimental to our campus.


Of course, I am not debating the validity of safe spaces. Johnson III takes pains to accurately describe the difference between a space minority groups can go to — such as a safe space — versus living in one 24/7 — an LGBTQ-only dorm floor. He defines safe spaces as “places where members of a marginalized group can come together in the midst of busy lives to talk together openly.” To contrast, LGBTQ-exlusive spaces do not take place in the midst of busy lives — they encompass all of life. They also do not give room for LGBTQ allies, only members of the said community. Safe spaces are necessary for students who need them. However, upon reading and discussing this article, my question is: has the professor justified his position that LGBTQ-exclusive spaces will lead to less equity among students on campus?


The notion of LGBTQ-exclusive spaces, such as an LGBTQ-only residence hall, is well intentioned. However as the old saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I agree with the professor’s core argument that LGBTQ-only dorms are are detrimental to campus life.  Safe spaces are specifically for those of a marginalized group. Johnson III does not argue this fact, but instead believes an, “LGBTQ-only living arrangement would heighten the risk of targeted violence or vandalism.” He argues this based off of the belief that a LGBTQ-only dorm would be an easy target for homophobes. The professor’s outlook is severe and I do not feel that an LGBTQ-only living space would be the target of such hate on a campus like USF. However, I see another threat.


LGBTQ-only residence halls concentrate certain groups into a specific space. There is a difference between having a space to go to for understanding and having your entire community filled with only people who agree with you. A significant amount of time is spent in one’s dorm and I believe that students would be offered a warped vision of the world. Sadly, mainstream America is not as friendly to the concerns of LGBTQ persons as a dorm with only LGBTQ people would be. This would only serve to alienate the LGBTQ community from the rest of USF. The world is not filled with people just like us. For the time we live in, queer people have to learn how to change the minds of those who disagree with their mere existence. It a harsh truth, but one that will hopefully change. Living and working with only queer persons will do nothing to help this.


The goal for both our university and our world is to confront biases and establish the LGBTQ community as a part of our civil society. While LGBTQ students are free to create their own community, surrounding oneself in only one viewpoint is dangerous. One must learn to communicate regardless of background, and USF should prepare each student on how to do so.


This is not an easy conversation to have and requires many stakeholders. After all, it concerns their community. Johnson III also clarified in his essay, “I do wholeheartedly support the development and protection of safe LGBTQ spaces like support groups and gay bars.” We can all agree that this discussion revolves around equity and the inclusion of our LGBTQ students. However, these 24/7 LGBTQ-exclusive spaces harm the individual student who must navigate the real world and confront those with bigoted views.


Featured Photo: USF published an argument against LGBTQ exclusive living spaces. Does this assessment align with the values of the university? RACQUEL GONZALES  


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