UNC student panel praises safe spaces for First Amendment Day

Students at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill marked First Amendment Day with a panel discussion about trigger warnings, safe spaces, and privilege.

The student-led panel was almost unanimously in favor of colleges providing such accommodations , according to The Daily Tar Heel, offering a variety of justifications for the practice and disputing the notion that it is contributing to a generation of coddled young adults.

“The question of a safe space has to go to people that do feel unsafe for many of those privileges that they’re lacking,” declared Cara Pugh, co-chairperson of the UNC Student Government Multicultural Affairs and Diversity Outreach Committee.

Later, Pugh weighed in on the need for safe spaces, even claiming that UNC was originally created as a safe space for white men.

“That might explain why some people don’t feel safe in this space. Because it wasn’t initially made for them,” she speculated. “They had to make their way and it was difficult and it was tiring. And learning about that history won’t solve all our problems, but it would at least give you an understanding of where others are coming from.”

One panelist, law student Caleb Johnson, did challenge the increasingly expansive understanding of “privilege,” suggesting that granting minority status to people simply because they are left-handed, for example, tends to inhibit academic freedom.

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“Can we as an institution be sensitive to every minority, every feeling, every possible offense out there without binding and shackling the free flow of ideas that make these institutions great?” he asked.

Emily Yue, assistant opinion editor of The Daily Tar Heel, objected to Johnson’s remarks, saying, “I don’t feel super comfortable comparing people who are left-handed to, say, black Americans because left-handed folk aren’t criminalized for being left-handed.”

When the question of media access to student protests arose, Pugh argued that while the press can play an important role in bringing attention to the causes being advocated, protesters should be able to avoid reporters if they fear that their words will be skewed or taken out of context.

[RELATED: Obama denounces muzzling of speech at Mizzou]

“It’s unfortunate if media misquotes or doesn’t depict the story in the correct way,” she said, “but we’ve seen time and time again for civil rights movements and for other movements to go further, media was definitely involved and media was definitely needed.”

Brooks Fuller, a graduate student in the School of Media and Journalism, argued that the purpose of trigger warnings and safe spaces is not actually to empower underprivileged minorities, but rather to diminish the privilege of everybody else.

“I’m not sure if in the trigger warning debate, it’s so much about accommodating minority status as much as it is accommodating power imbalance and correcting power imbalance,” he opined, noting that trigger warnings are helpful to those suffering from post-traumatic stress, and that safe spaces were originally created by LGBTQ communities in the 1970s and 1980s.

The UNC College Republicans declined to comment on the issues raised during the event, telling Campus Reform that no CR members were part of the panel.

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