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Last fall, young people gathered in protest at dozens of universities across the country. Students of color spoke about feeling unwelcome or invisible, of being stereotyped, slighted, excluded, harassed. One deceptively simple phrase, derided or endorsed, seemed to crystallize what was at stake: “safe space.” The expression — which dates to the Sixties and was originally associated with consciousness-raising groups in the women’s movement — has been used to describe places in which members of historically persecuted groups can enjoy a reprieve from the hierarchies of the world at large and discuss their experiences without fear of censure. Some commentators viewed the protesters’ call to create safe spaces on campus — or to make universities themselves into safe spaces — as infantilizing. The world awaiting graduates, they reasoned, is unavoidably tough; better that students get used to this sooner rather than later. To others, protesters were articulating a legitimate need for environments where thoughtful treatment can be expected by all. Were students usefully encouraging discourse on campus to be more humane? Or did making academic spaces “safe” necessarily chill free expression? In the pages ahead, six writers consider the claims and counterclaims of the new student protest movements.

“Weary Oracle,” by Dawn Lundy Martin

“Blanket Security,” by Thomas Chatterton Williams

“A Kind of Grace,” by Hannah Black

“Common Cause,” by Alix Rule

“Political Correction,” by Osita Nwanevu

“We Out Here,” by Wesley Yang

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March 2016

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