2016 has been quite the year. Donald Trump. Brexit. Philando Castile. Dallas. The future is uncertain for many, particularly Millennials, who are looking for solid ground on which to build their lives, which up until now have existed only in the dependent or academic categories.
Basically, we’re all freaking out.
Enter the “safe space,” a term originally coined to mean an academic space that was free of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric or harassment, but has expanded now to encompass a perceived aura of sensitivity over university campuses, complete with trigger warnings and therapy dogs.
The common response of baby boomers is, “There are no safe spaces in the real world.” What they mean is that they’re frustrated with Millennials and their inability to cope, how they “weren’t like that in my day.”
And they’re right: many Millennials have no clue how to cope. The future for Millennials, compared to their past, looks pretty bleak. We were raised during an economic and housing boom, both of which have crashed. Half of our boomer parents’ marriages ended in divorce, often creating volatile home environments not conducive to understanding stability. Sexual harassment is real. Racism is real. But what boomers say to Millennials who voice their anxiety at these concerns is, more or less, to toughen up: this is the real world.
Trust us, boomers, we know this is the real world—we are utterly terrified.
For those who go to college, we get four years to decide what our world is going to look like because we know that we don’t have a choice in the real world. As opposed to many who have already left the academic system, we are actively shaping and solidifying our beliefs, putting ourselves intentionally into uncomfortable learning environments. Forgive us if we—especially racial and sexual minorities whose viewpoints are often overlooked or ridiculed—need a safe space of respite.
“Respite” is the key word here—we do not intend to stay in our safe spaces. Coping is a process, by definition giving it a beginning and, more importantly, an end. Fox News dubbed campus post-election coping mechanisms “coddling the campus crybabies” because many higher institutions (quite respectable ones like Columbia and the University of Michigan) elected to include Play-Doh and counseling sessions. Tucker Carlson, Fox News reporter, commented that “shouldn’t students just toughen up?”
The way Carlson is implying, no, we shouldn’t. He means that students should swallow their negative feelings and opposing thoughts in favor of the harmony of the whole group. He means that dissenting opinions and expressing pain and sadness are weaknesses, and it’s annoying him.
25% of all college students will suffer with a mental health disorder, and almost half of them will experience symptoms of depression–and it’s not because they can’t hack it in higher learning. The university experience is not the same as the Woodstock generation would remember it; it’s dangerously competitive. School rankings creates competition between institutions, which will push their students to the max. All this pressure combined with inadequate coping mechanisms leads to disorders, for which I must recommend that counseling must be sought, not just “sucked up.”
I would be remiss not to note the pampered and privileged who would readily abuse a safe space to surround themselves only with their own points of view, who would rather play with puppies than read about implicit racism. As Esther Kao, student journalist for Millennial Influx, explains, if “overly sensitive college students” are the ones primarily accessing safe spaces, then “safe spaces hinder higher learning.”
What college students are trained to cope with before entering college has likely prepared them for the previous generation of higher learning. But boomers–this is the real world. It’s pushing students harder than ever, for great GPAs and increasingly unique thoughts. No wonder we crave a break with soothing stimuli and like-minded talk. Well-conceived safe spaces provide that respite Millennials require to increase their “toughness” before going back to face and fight the real world we’re so disappointed in.
Picture Credit: Peter Schrank