The president of a US university is facing calls to resign because she refuses to endorse safe spaces on her institution’s campus.
Rita Cheng, who leads Northern Arizona University, sparked protests and a campus walkout by telling students they had to confront ideas they don’t like rather than hide from them.
The university’s Student Action Coalition attacked Dr Cheng’s leadership and demanded that she quit after a tense confrontation at a Q&A session.
According to Arizona’s 12News channel, the incident came to a head with a question from a sophomore, who asked:
How can you promote safe spaces if you don’t take action in situations of injustice such as last week when we had the preacher on campus and he was promoting hate speech against marginalized students? As well as, not speaking out against racist incidents like blackface two months ago by student workers followed by no reform and no repercussions?
Dr Cheng responded by attacking the safe space ideology wholesale, saying essentially that they only serve to coddle students and stunt their development:
As a university professor, I’m not sure I have any support at all for safe space. I think that you as a student have to develop the skills to be successful in this world and that we need to provide you with the opportunity for discourse and debate and dialogue and academic inquiry, and I’m not sure that that is correlated with the notion of safe space as I’ve seen that.
Pro-safe space students marched out of the meeting in response to the exchange and later issued an aggrieved statement to the media describing Dr Cheng as unfit to lead the university.
In response, Dr Cheng said she is happy to meet with students who don’t like her style – but offered no indication that she is going anywhere.
Coincidentally, Northern Arizona University has also been the setting for another social justice-themed showdown – but with students and faculty on opposite sides.
Campus Reform last week reported that an English student had been docked marks for refusing to use gender neutral language in a paper.
Cailin Jeffers, an English major, was penalized for including the word “mankind” in an essay – a situation the student branded “absurd”.