We need to occupy unsafe spaces

Today an atmosphere of grief pervaded Berkeley, and a series of emails came from higher and higher up the chain of command, culminating with one from Janet Napolitano, reaffirming the University of California’s commitment to its principles of inclusivity, diversity, and all things that are good. Here is an email from the Vice-Chancellor for Equity and Inclusion:

Dear Cal Students, Staff, and Faculty,

We know that the results of yesterday’s election have sparked fear and concern among many in our community; in particular our immigrant and undocumented communities, Muslim, African American, Chicanx/Latinx, LGBTQ+, Asian and Pacific Islander communities, survivors of sexual assault, people with disabilities, women, and many others. We are reaching out to you with a message of support. UC Berkeley leadership remains steadfast in our values and committed to the safety and well-being of all of our students, faculty, and staff. We condemn bigotry and hatred in all forms, and hold steadfast in our commitment to equity, access, and a campus that is safe, inclusive, and welcoming to all.

Various communities have organized the following community spaces and resources:

  • A community space for undocumented students tonight at 6:30pm in Chavez Room 105.
  • CLSD and CLPR are hosting space at the Shorb House, 2547 Channing Way from 12pm-5pm for students to come by. Faculty and staff will be there in community with our students for support.
  • MCC is holding a safe space for POC/Black students from 8pm-10pm this evening.
  • QTAP is hosting a QTOPC dinner in Anthony Hall at 6pm.
  • The Gender Equity Resource Center is open today, until 5pm, for those who wish for a quiet space for contemplation and community. GenEq is also hosting the following healing spaces:
    • Women’s Healing Space – Today, November 9th, 1pm-2:30pm
    • LGBTQ+ Healing Space – Today, November 9th, 2:30pm-4pm

Now, without discounting the value of having a good place to quietly sob with like-minded people, this strikes me as the message you would send after the Charleston shooting, or the Orlando shooting. This was not the act of one disturbed person. Sixty million Americans went to the trouble of going all the way to the polling place to vote for Trump, or of filling up their absentee ballot, and then mailing it in. That’s one in four adult Americans, a diverse coalition of white people: educated white people and less educated white people, male white people and female white people, religious white people and secular white people, and, one should note, even a few people who are not white. White people who thought it’s their constitutional right to discriminate against gay people, white people who think it’s ok to grab women by their pussy, and that you can get away with it if you are a star, white people who think muslims should not come to the US.

Our students will meet these people everywhere. They will be their neighbors, their coworkers, their bosses, and maybe their in-laws. When our students graduate, there will be no safe space.

And if there were, that is not where they should go. Because those sixty million people will not change their minds by talking among themselves.

But the oppressed cannot be left alone to speak out for themselves.

A feature of rape prevention programs is bystander intervention training: telling people how to recognize a situation in which someone is at risk of assault, and intervene.

We need white people to speak out against racism, christians to speak out for the religion freedom of non-christians, men to speak out against misogyny, straight people to speak out for LGBT people, Republicans to speak out against Trump.

And we need them to do this where it is not safe to do so, because otherwise all we have is angry people talking to the like-minded on the internet.

Edited to add a useful link

11 thoughts on “We need to occupy unsafe spaces

  1. Thank you Luca for this powerful message. I cannot agree more. What bothers me is that these diverse (unsafe) spaces you seek are very rare. I wonder if we in the CS community have an additional obligation to create such virtual spaces (unlike the “filtered bubbles” that surround us).

  2. The most powerful interventions happen in real life, right at the moment when something wrong happens, in the workplace, on the bus, in your church, and so on.

    But what if, hypothetically, one lives in San Francisco, works in Berkeley, and doesn’t like talking to people? I have been struggling with this question.

    Creating less segregated virtual spaces is an interesting question. How do you design incentives that go against people’s tendency to create comfortable bubbles around them?

    The other question is, as we delegate more and more choices to algorithms trained by machine learning techniques, how do we avoid that the algorithms learn our biases? How do we even rigorously define fairness and discrimination? I know that you, and a lot of people, are working on it.

  3. I’m a feminist and a minority, and I’m wholly opposed to safe spaces. While the intentions are good they absorb the narrative of the oppressor that we need to be segregated to be safe. Again, while I understand why an oppressed black person might feel uncomfortable in an open space, in the end an “only blacks” (or mexicans or LGBT or jewish or you name it) space is only inches above an only white segregated space, such as those prevalent in the south.

  4. These “safe-spaces” and specifically over victimization of “minority” groups is the reason we got Trump elected in the first place. The arrogant tone of the post is also not really helpful. We don’t need more SJWs. We need more free-spirited, brave and rational people, doing whatever they like, saying whatever they want to say (free speech remember?).

    It’s also amusing to hear from you about privileged Berkeley students being among “the oppressed”. Really? And how do you call Trump supporters who never went to college, let alone Berkeley? Are they the “oppressor” in your narrative?

    Look at Lance’s post on the matter. This is how a grownup and politically responsible person reacts.

  5. So in the very same post you:

    1) Pass along, without condemnation, notice of a meeting exclusively for black people.

    2) Blame all or nearly all white people for actions taken by some of them. Which is fine, really, if you are also in the habit of blaming blacks or other minority groups in analogous situations (e.g., the problems of Detroit), but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that, even though I don’t know you, you’d probably think such statements would be racist.

    3) Talk about the need to speak out against racism.

    Meh. Typical smug liberal rhetoric. Most of the people I know who voted for Trump did so in reaction to this sort of thing.

  6. Thanks for the post, Luca. I would add that we also need to go to those unsafe places and listen. If we only preach, I fear we will be about as effective as the street preachers in Berkeley that summarily condemn people and then would like to persuade them. The vitriol toward Trump supporters undermines the effort to persuade them, or even engage them.

  7. J*sus Chr*st, is this insanity everywhere? Those students are like little babies.

    Really, I’m more interested in knowing if American academia is a safe space for conservatives or even anyone who is to the right of Scott Aaronson.


  8. Congratulations. The half of the country who support many of the changes that are coming as a return to reason will need safe spaces soon.

  9. When McCain lost with 59+ million votes and when Romney lost with 60,933,504 (which is more than Clinton’s current 60,839,922) did people riot in the streets? Did those who supported them need “safe spaces” to inhabit? Did classes cancel exams and campus leaders send out e-mail calling for calm and offering support? Under President Obama’s leadership, the national debt climbed almost 10 TRILLION additional dollars without riots by and needs of safe spaces for those who opposed his presidency.

  10. Pingback: OK…So, What Do We Do From Here? | On The Shoulders Of Windmills

  11. With due respect, Professor, I would like to offer an opposing viewpoint on this and would like to know your thoughts on it. (Though I don’t know if the sentiment of this post has been left behind to when it was most salient)

    There are a few reasons why in the big picture, I don’t think this post is helpful.

    I don’t feel as though the impression left by this post is entirely truthful or accurate. First off the post downplays the number of minorities that voted for Trump; I’m pretty sure every single minority voted more for Trump than for any other Republican candidate in the recent past. So Trump had comparatively significant support from minorities. The use of “white people” in reference to the voters for Trump not only wrongly suggests that Trump is some kind of fearful tyrant who the disadvantaged minorities feel greatly oppressed by, but it also targets white people. Targeting white people is not helpful for white people nor for minorities; making someone the outright villain is not a good way to get them to listen to you.

    Further, the specific claims insinuated about white people are not substantive either. Trump is PRO-GAY. Actually, it is true that some population is bigoted against homosexuals and was attracted to voting for Trump. But, the reality is, you have people the opposition would view as crazy on both sides, even the one that appears to be more “tolerant.” (for an example of an absolutely insane liberally-minded person, see this person’s videos https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4drOeSCJXtw). It more or less balances out. I don’t think you can say one side is more bigoted than the other. Furthermore, you imply that Trump supporters are rapists. Okay, maybe some of them are, but at a proportion I’d wager is more or less equal to the nation’s average. Most Trump supporters HAVE MORALS and know that RAPE IS BAD because really they are JUST PEOPLE. In my opinion, the outrage at Trump saying “GRAB THEM BY THE PUSSY” is unwarranted. For some reason, I don’t think there would be as much outrage if a woman made a comment about grabbing guys’ dicks. Guys brag about sex all day – sure that may not be a good thing, but it’s normal, and RAPE IS NOT NORMAL. So to say that this is SUPPORTING RAPE is stupid. It is not unheard of for a highly accomplished man who receives attention to stupidly boast. Furthermore, everyone knows that many women throw themselves at men who are at the pinnacle of fame and success. In all honesty, professor, I’m sure you’ve heard your colleagues brag about their own accomplishments in a similar manner. It’s not all that different. To make guys stop talking about having sex like they won an award is to remove male ego. Do you really think this is reasonable/possible???

    On your final point, I agree it would be nice if people not affected by oppression spoke out against oppression. The thing is, such people already do – white people speaking for racial equality, religious people in favor of religious freedom, straight people speaking out for gay people, even Republicans who criticize Trump (follow Ben Shapiro on Twitter. Not that I endorse his views. Lol)!!! The thing is, if you open up any piece of media that is not explicitly conservative, I guarantee, EVERYONE is in favor of these inclusive ideals! Why? Because, imagine if an actor said they did not like gay people, it would be all over the news, Facebook, etc, they would be publicly shamed to hell!! So at least, support of these issues is partially motivated by fear of having one’s reputation destroyed, quite a strong impetus. It is also motivated by a desire for attention. There are way too many “Facebook activists” who post what is essentially spam, speaking on issues they clearly don’t experience very deeply, but doing it anyways because it gets positive attention. The pressure generated by posts like these doesn’t necessarily leade to meaningful activism. Although, I agree, it does overall instill in our culture a more inclusive attitude which is good. But it’s also on the edge of being a cancer!!!

    A special point included in the above is your indirect condemnation of CHRISTIANS, combined with your condemning of the condemnation of MUSLIMS. Since Muslim teachings and Muslim people on average (look up statistics) are much more intolerant of other perspectives (gay people included) than Christians, This is so hypocritical that I can only conclude the justification is arbitrary party obligations (Christian = Conservative, Muslim=Liberal). At least, it comes off that way, in that the malleable reader would be led to view Christians as bigots and Muslims as victims (they are victims, but they are more bigoted than Christians.) I think this is evidence that this kind of rhetoric is creating ideological puppets (cannot see/come to terms with contradictions in own belief subscriptions).

    In short, I view this post as neither bad nor good, but view it as useful for generating conversation. I do not view it as presenting ideas that are legitimately helpful/important, though I might be ignorant in the grander scheme of things. Hopefully I wasn’t too offensive! If you read this, thanks :).

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