Staff Editorial: Too much safety limits perspective


Meghan Joyce

What roles does safety play in learning? The editorial asserts that protection leads to hypersensitivity and overreaction.

It’s a great thing, to be part of a safe and welcoming community.  There are no gang fights in the hall, no students arrested for bringing clocks to school, and no one sent to detention for appropriately testing authority.  But have you ever been afraid to ask a question because you were afraid of hearing wrath instead of an answer? Stayed silent because you weren’t sure what the most politically correct terminology was? Taken the back seat in a conversation on a touchy subject because you were worried you didn’t know enough about it? It’s not an uncommon or unjustified feeling; after all, no one wants to say something that could unintentionally be perceived as offensive or otherwise hurtful.

St. Paul Academy and Summit School is a safe space until someone gets emotionally or intellectually hurt. Then, ignorance is the crime, and it is punishable with endless verbal attacks and talk behind the offender’s back… and it is a type of offense that never seems to be erased from the small community’s collective memory.

This isn’t to say that it’s bad that SPA is a space where most students feel tremendously safe. It’s fantastic that students here get to spend years of their lives learning how to collaborate and communicate productively in an environment that promotes shameless self-expression within the bounds of complete respect for one another. It’s fantastic that we self-report an 8 out of 10 on the school’s Safe Space survey, and also that the administration cared enough to support a Safe Space survey at all, and now we are creating a student-centered task force with the sole mission of bumping that perceived safety score as high as it can go.

Students aren’t just safe here; they are being kept safe from things that they don’t like.

What isn’t fantastic is that none of it is real. Students aren’t just safe here; they are being kept safe from things that they don’t like. When students step out of SPA, they are doing it with unrealistic expectations and hypersensitivity to those expectations not being met. SPA students are in for a culture shock when they leave. There are no Safe Space Task Forces, no micro- (or even macro-) aggression police, no guarantee of unisex bathrooms or trigger warnings or acceptance. Students who go here are unbelievably lucky to have so many options for developing a standard of respect for one another, but in the long run, people need to also learn how to go without those comforts.

It isn’t about giving up on things that matter personally. It’s about understanding that people are… well, people: programmed to make assumptions and prone to make mistakes, no matter how hard they fight it. Not everyone will walk around with the same SPA-like fear of saying something offensive; some people will let the wrong things slip without thinking twice. And when they do, we can’t let it slide, but we shouldn’t attack either.

The broader world is as horrible as it is beautiful. Being sheltered from the things out there that aren’t comfortable equates to living in denial of them. Facing all of the coarseness of the world with experience and intention is the best way to define one’s character and really make a change.

This story was originally published in September 2015 print issue of  The Rubicon.