Intellectual bubbles

Debate is critical to post-secondary education

A SAIT student demonstrates restrictions on freedom of speech and creating a safe space by covering her mouth. (Photo by Dawn Gibson/ SAIT)

A SAIT student demonstrates restrictions on freedom of speech and creating a safe space by covering her mouth. (Photo by Dawn Gibson/ SAIT)

By now, we’ve all read about the Trump hat fiasco at Mount Royal University. But, I’m not here to cover that story. Not really.

I’m here to talk about safe spaces.

Almost everyone is on the same page already. The woman was wrong to ask the man to take off his “Make America Great Again” hat. In accusing the man of supporting bigoted ideas, she showed that she herself was a bigot.

“These people pride themselves on being tolerant,” said Maite Caamano-Walton, a SAIT baking and pastry arts graduate who now studies at the University of Calgary. “But, they don’t even know what being tolerant means.”

Students are taught their whole life that tolerance is something that they should strive for, says Caamano-Walton. But, only learn about tolerance in theory and lack the real world experience.

This results in people treating tolerance like it’s a religion instead of a philosophy.

“They’re all high and mighty in their ivory towers thinking ‘my tolerance is better than your tolerance.’”

Then, as people are known to do, they draw lines in the sand and form factions. Historically, this has never ended well.

“People end up forming these social circles that just serve as an echo chamber for their views,” says Kyle Heller-Bueckert, a student of Mount Royal University’s nursing program who has his EMR certificate from SAIT.

People should be challenging their own ideas by peacefully and respectfully debating with people who disagree with them, Heller-Bueckert suggests. Instead, they create “safe spaces” as a way to silence people of differing opinions.

“It just signals a complete disrespect for whoever you’re up against. Once someone adopts the mentality that their view is superior to someone else’s, then peaceful discussions become much more difficult.”

This is why John Ellison, who is the dean at the University of Chicago, sent out a letter to all of the college’s freshmen students this year, which expressly denounced the idea of intellectual “safe spaces.”

“You will discover that one of the University of Chicago’s defining characteristics is our commitment to freedom of inquiry and expression,” the letter reads.

“Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called ‘trigger warnings,’ we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.”

And, perhaps, SAIT should borrow a page from the University of Chicago’s rulebook and adopt this practice
as well.

Our ideas are subject to the same laws of evolution as our biology. They must grow and adapt and meet the challenges of their environment, lest they go the way of the dodo.

So go out there, look your opponent in the eye, and let them do their worst. You’ll either learn to see things from a new perspective, or you’ll walk away a little bit taller, able to say that you’re brimming with good ideas.

One way or another, you’ll be better off for your troubles.

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