Safe spaces: the university culture wars

Tuesday 23 May 2017 -
14:15 to 15:30

This session will explore the transformation of university culture and identify how university leaders can attempt to heal the rifts.

Campuses worldwide are being transformed by the arrival of a generation of students who have grown up using social media, which makes it straightforward for them to start campaigns that polarise people, and simultaneously reinforce existing opinions. This transformation has pitched urban-global students against one another ― as one group suggests a meat-free Monday, another will rise to insist on the right to eat meat.

It can also set students against staff. The trend originated with trigger warnings, which academics use to advise students that they are about to encounter content that some could find upsetting. It has now spread to include concepts such as safe spaces. Advocates of safe spaces see them as a way for students to feel secure. However, critics worry about censoriousness, and academics are learning that asking someone where they were born can be interpreted as a micro-aggression.

Meanwhile university leaders are caught in the middle: sympathetic to students who have experienced personal difficulties, but uneasy at the idea of the exclusion of content, people and experiences. How can university leaders navigate this unforgiving landscape?

speakers

  • Alison Goddard, Editor of HE, Research Fortnight, UK (Chair)
  • Professor Wim de Villiers, Vice-Chancellor, Stellenbosch University, South Africa