F*** Safe Space

On Canadian university campuses, Frosh Week (orientation week for freshmen) has just ended. Frosh Week typically involves a mixture of official and unofficial activities, and the donning of various types of matching apparel. Alas, the apparel at Carleton University in Ottawa included t-shirts reading “Fuck Safe Space.” According to this story from Carleton’s student newspaper, The Charlatan, a handful of people were wearing the shirts, in apparent defiance of Carleton’s safe space program, which seeks to “reduce the impact of homophobia and heterosexism on campus.” Apparently, the t-shirts, which were not official Frosh Week garb, were donned by upper year students at the close of Frosh Week to protest aspects of the Frosh Week contract to which Frosh leaders were signatory.


ED: As anonymous and Rachel rightly point out, the Charlatan story I linked here describes a handful, not hundreds, of frosh leaders wearing the offending shirts. I misread the sentence in the original and have now corrected the post above.


11 thoughts on “F*** Safe Space

  1. it was not hundreds. There were a handful, and as soon as they realized how the shirts may be interpreted, they were turned inside out.

  2. Hi Anonymous

    Can you cite any source for you claim? Do you have any inside information about who/what group produced the shirts and how they could possibly have failed to realize that the shirts would be interpreted as queer-phobic? I would be surprised if these were produced or worn in complete ignorance of those consequences.

  3. Is the problem that the shirts are queer-phobic? Or that they are grossly insensitive to the very real problem of sexual assault?

    The guys who wore them said the point was supposed to be about swearing, which is the aspect of the contract they were protesting.

    I guess the interpretation is not obvious.

  4. Yeah, it was the Frosh leaders, not all Frosh students. So it was, as Anonymous points out, a handful, not hundreds. The alleged reason for the shirts was to protest some of the university rules for Frosh leaders (like not swearing). Of course, they took it *way* too far and this is deeply, deeply inappropriate. Hopefully there is serious disciplinary action.

  5. Raven: Intention and interpretation are two very different things. Who cares if they only intended the shirts to protest the swearing rule? It’s a very reasonable interpretation to see them and feel unsafe, especially viz. sexual assault. The shirts say ‘Fuck safe space…or me.’ That is very overtly sexual. And so the inference to the shirts being a comment about safe spaces and sexual assault is an obvious one. The students can’t claim that this wasn’t intended and therefore NOT an implication of the shirts’ messaging. Communication doesn’t work that way.

  6. Oh, right, I didn’t mean to be saying that intention and interpretation were the same thing. I meant they could be interpreted as intended (namely as a protest against the swearing rule) or as queer-phobic or as trivializing sexual assault. I didn’t mean that there is one correct interpretation (given by the intention).

    Also: I didn’t realize that the picture showing the “or me” was a picture of the back of the same shirts. Different color, and the article doesn’t mention it. But plainly you’re right, it is.

  7. Couldn’t you respond: Actually, there’s no such thing as “Safe Space”–and if there is, then it’s equally demeaning to queer people. “Here, come be yourselves in this ‘safe space’ since you can’t handle the rough-and-tumble of the world.” As a self-described queer person, I say, with all due respect, fuck that!

  8. I think Ligurio’s exactly right that saying “fuck safe space!” in that precise context is a legitimate critique of an institution’s claims to have a “safe space”. The broader context is usually more important than the content of the message, and Ligurio’s example shows it. But the Carleton students weren’t in the proper context in the story mentioned in the OP.

  9. I copy below the message from Carleton President Roseann Runte which was communicated today to members of the Carleton University community. I believe that communicating this response is relevant to the discussion on this blog.

    From: Message from the President
    Sent: September 8, 2014 3:17 PM

    Subject: Safe Spaces

    Sept. 8, 2014

    To All Members of the Carleton Community:

    Carleton University has investigated an off-campus gathering on Sept. 7, 2014 involving Carleton students who wore T-shirts with offensive wording. The event took place after Orientation Week officially concluded. The event was not an officially-sanctioned Orientation Week activity.

    Some of the students wearing the shirts with offensive wording were orientation facilitators. Such behaviour is not acceptable and extremely disappointing to the broader Carleton community. Those involved have indicated that they will issue a sincere public apology and work with the university to ensure that such behaviour does not occur again in the future.
    Sanctions will be issued subsequent to individual meetings.

    The Safe Spaces initiative is part of the university’s broader Human Rights policy. It has been in place at Carleton for over 10 years and has been supported by the Department of Equity Services. The program has been a success, with training delivered to thousands of students, as well as faculty and staff.

    The inappropriate action did not undermine the overall effectiveness of Carleton’s Orientation programming and the university remains committed to carrying on with its education and outreach to ensure safe spaces for all and an inclusive educational environment.

    Similar to other campuses in North America, we will continue the discussion about inclusivity, safe spaces and maintaining a safe campus.

    The university takes this incident seriously and will work with utmost diligence to continue the efforts already made to reinforce a culture which promotes and respects safe spaces.

    Roseann O’Reilly Runte

  10. Lingurio: Maybe you interpret ‘safe space’ language that way, but a hell of a lot of queer people I know (including myself) don’t. I don’t think it means “you can’t handle” the world. It’s just nice to have a place where it’s less likely that bad shit will happen. Personally I advocate for the language of ‘safer space,’ since I think truly safe spaces are impossible, particularly for trans-identified people.

  11. Matt and Rachel,

    Thanks for the replies. I agree with Matt that these things are always context-sensitive, and hence that my reconstruction of the sentiment might not be the best one, and might not even be plausible, mutatis mutandis.

    Rachel, yeah, I can see that being true. But the phrase itself, in either version, really bugs me for some reason. It sounds so much like an HR creation, and I can’t stand procedural bureaucratic types and their manufactured language. (I’m not a liberal, really, I guess.)

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