“I never felt I could talk about it or even be myself in this class because your room does not have the ‘Safe Space Triangle’ outside of the door.”
Two students have echoed these feelings recently and it deeply disturbed me. Four months in my classroom and these students did not feel safe because of the absence of a sticker outside my door. Shouldn’t every classroom in any school be a ‘safe place’ for all children? Placing the sign outside of classrooms leads children to believe that some classes are safe while others are not. Is it an error in reasoning on their part? Of course it is. They are kids and aren’t supposed to be completely logical yet. Even adults illogically make assumptions. The intention behind the ‘Safe Space’ initiative is commendable. However, it perpetuates division and feelings of rejection.
Groups have designed Safe Spaces as a place where anyone can go without fear of criticism, exposure, harassment or bullying. It should be a place where every child is valued, where diversity is embraced, varying opinions appreciated and all lifestyles welcome. The people in these spaces (ideally) model kindness and do not tolerate hate speech or insults. Originally, safe spaces were created for those in the LGBTQ community who needed a refuge from onslaught of negativity. Then, these spaces became a place of refuge for anyone who needed somewhere to go, an escape, a place to relax and be themselves. A place of acceptance.
The idea, some say, originated with gay and lesbian bars and with the women’s movement of the 60’s (Harris). During a time when there were actually laws that punished gays and lesbians for having intimate relationships, these bars became a rare ‘sanctuary’ of sorts where people could be out and experience an accepting environment. The term ‘safe space’ broadened with women’s groups of the 60’s and 70’s, focusing more on the community of females working towards a shared cause. This shared space freed these women from male domination and supremacy, even if only during their time together (Harris).
Designated ‘safe places’ are not appropriate for K-12 schools. In these settings, every child is entitled to a safe environment – in classrooms, hallways, bathrooms, cafeterias, libraries, student centers, gyms, playgrounds, etc. If a teacher cannot commit to respecting all children and to fighting for tolerance and kindness in the classroom, if a teacher cannot look into the face of a transgender or homosexual child with love and kindness, if a teacher cannot promise to prohibit hate-speech or racial slurs, then that teacher has no place in a classroom or around children.
“There’s virtually no way to create a room of two people that doesn’t include the reproduction of some unequal power relation…(Harris)”
A Safe Space is a place where anyone can relax and be able to fully express, without fear of being made to feel uncomfortable, unwelcome, or unsafe…