‘Safe Spaces’ In Universities Translate As Exploitable Intangibles…

Numerous universities are creating ‘safe spaces’ or ‘free forum’ areas for student expression…presumably through deliberative processes.  I hold the view that, safe spaces will likely proliferate.  As such, they can manifest as attractive and marketable intangibles, perhaps benefitting student enrollment and satisfaction. That is, provided they are not rushed-cosmetic tokens to accommodate the appearance of an exigency stemming from vile disrespect to peoples identities or thoughts, which is known to adversely affect student personage while elevating the sense of divisiveness. https://kpstrat.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=1108

Whether the practice of designating safe places (conceptually – practically) are acknowledged as intangible assets which universities can or should exploit, i.e., articulate – market to current and prospective students as current-day necessities to facilitate presumably reasonable conversation regarding an array of social, political, racial, sexual, and gender issues, etc.

Designated safe places will, of course, require…some level of stewardship, if, for no other reason than to ensure groups of like or opposing minds may congregate, but not necessarily dominate, and absent some of the emotional stressors, which unfortunately, have become all-go-common.

I am an intangible asset strategist and risk specialist…and, as such, I believe its important to identify and assess an organization’s intangible assets and how the assets can-should be best applied as preludes to advancing those assets in ways that deliver greater value, competitive advantage, sustainability, and preferably, contribute to generating revenue in a well articulated, respectful, and ethical manner.  These newly designated ‘safe spaces’ and/or ‘free forum’ areas may be the prelude.

So, through my lens, the designation and development of safe spaces on university campuses…could manifest as quite ethical policies-practices which, in turn, may augment, enrich, and distinguish a campus’ mission by conveying its willingness to do what is necessary to safeguard that mission, on behalf of its students.  Such commitments, can also materialize as a competitive advantage, for which there are numerous ways to articulate in a respectful, humble, and ethical manner.  Admittedly, however, the range of potential (near – longer term) outcomes to the establishment of safe places on a campus, warrants more assessment.

The meaning of a safe spaces on campuses have shifted somewhat…in 2016, for example, a safe space generally referred to a designated room (space) where predominantly students of color and LGTB students, who…

  • sensed they were – had been socially-politically disenfranchised, marginalized, or otherwise discriminated against.
  • could assemble in environments in which there were reasonable expectations of freedom from aggressive and predatorial epithets from others who, for various reasons and motivations, were not accepting.
  • shared-mutual safety to discuss commonalities of their respective challenges.

Subsequently, permanency attached to safe spaceswith some safe place advocates extending their attention to student housing. Here, in some instances, advocates sought to broaden the construct of safe space that would entail segregating student living quarters to accommodate ‘like minds’. Who would have imagined that the original safe space motive, i.e., to explore issues in an inclusive environment, would so quickly manifest as essentially creating at will cultural – orientation – political segregation?

Safe space activism stems largely from…reactions  associated with ‘identity politics’, already evident and being expressed on many campuses. For some students, the attraction of a safe space is that it could, conceivably insulate them from not just predatorial hostilities, but also the views of presumably (primarily) students and others who may not be like them!

It is not uncommon now for students to seek – request safeguards…from ideas and speech on campuses which they find objectionable and/or experience personal sense of discomfort. These have translated as ‘trigger warnings’ which, with more frequency, are now paralleled by requests for physical separation which some contend their well-being is dependent.

In 2015 and 2016, students at some colleges called for…segregated safe spaces. For example, among the 14-page list of demands made by a group of Oberlin College (Ohio) students was that “spaces throughout the Oberlin College campus be designated as a safe space for Africana identifying students.” Oberlin’s president refused, noting the whole list “explicitly rejects the notion of collaborative engagement.” Adapted by Michael D. Moberly from ‘Campuses are breaking apart into ‘safe spaces’ by Frank Furedi, LA Times January 5, 2017

Arguably, at the core of the safe space debate…lie numerous questions, for example…

    a. how are safe places defined?
    b. how do ‘safe spaces’ manifest – materialize – extend, i.e., classrooms, dormitories, syllabi, teaching                               methodology-style, course reading materials, etc.
    c. whether the existence of safe places objectively contribute to or detract from (inhibit) intellectual inquiry for                students and faculty?
   d. where-how safe places should be established or designated?
   e. how does a university monitor – enforce a space designated as – intended to be safe?
   f. universities that actually-market safe spaces as policy and practice, how or will this affect the aspiration –                     practice of inclusion?

Awash in intangibles…having served in academia for 20+ years (1982-2002 and 2005-2007) university environments, i.e., classrooms, teaching, and ‘free forum’ areas in universities across the U.S. have been characterized, as mini-Trafalgar Squares where intellectual – human speech could be exercised relatively free from adverse recourse.

Similarly, universities were noted for their self-perpetuating ‘ground zeros’…for free and spirited debates and exchange of ideas could and would occur.

Opponents to safe places argue…in numerous instances, the processes and acts required for creating safe spaces on university campuses, is likened to trading long standing and valued ‘academic freedom’ for political correctness and perceived assurance of (student) inclusion. Any academician with even a semblance of responsibility for ‘student retention’ understands that rapid and positive (felt sense of) inclusion is a very strong underlier to (student) sustainable retention percentages.

Proponents of social justice (movements) are inclined to…argue safe spaces represent – constitute a special reprieve, not necessarily an amnesty, rather an expectation that an environment designated as a safe place may be free from personal-cultural-racial bigotry and oppressive language. Rather, an expectation (lower probability) it will not occur, one outcome of which is an empathetic environment for expression.

For further insights into the safe place issue, I have included…debate motions for a June 23, 2018 conference held in Banff, AB Canada, sponsored by Intelligence Squared, titled ‘Trigger Warning: Safe Spaces Are Dangerous’.

For The Motion

• By fostering a campus culture where some ideas are deemed “dangerous,” safe spaces restrict free speech and intellectual diversity by silencing those whose views are unpopular or don’t conform to the status quo.

• Rather than promoting campus unity, safe spaces isolate like-minded students and divide campuses around issues of race, gender, and sexuality. Further, they prevent students from different cultural, economic, and intellectual backgrounds from coming together for productive and meaningful exchange of ideas.

• Trigger warnings and safe spaces infantilize young adults, promote victimhood, and create a learning environment that deprives students of a complete, intellectually balanced education.

Against The Motion

• Safe spaces promote free speech and free expression. When students have access to supportive and empathetic communities on campus, they are empowered to speak up in class or in other intellectual forums.

• Today’s student body is the most culturally and racially diverse in history. Safe spaces offer traditionally marginalized students an opportunity to learn without fear of hate speech, bigotry, racism, or other forms of hostility that too often prevent them from being fully immersed in the academic community.

• Trigger warnings and safe spaces foster resilience in students. For victims of PTSD, assault, and other forms of violence, these tools allow them to engage with potentially troubling content in ways that are healthy and productive.

Adapted by Michael D. Moberly from conference – debate sponsored by Intelligence Squared Debate held on June 23, 2018, at Banff, AB Canada, titled ‘Trigger Warning: Safe Spaces Are Dangerous’.

No complete answers yet…other than my sense that safe places variously have already and will likely continue to be potentially influential and exploitable intangible assets!

Michael D. Moberly June 23, 2018 St. Louis [email protected] ‘The Intangible Asset Blog’, since May 2006, https://kpstrat.com/blog where one’s attention span, business realities, and solutions converge!

Readers are invited to examine other relevant resources I have produced at https://kpstrat.com/books/ i.e., books, papers, and blog posts.


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