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Journalism Professor: ‘College Is Not a Safe Space’

By December 3, 2015

In an insightful new piece for MediaShift, Shaheen Pasha, an assistant professor of international journalism at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, gives her take on why college shouldn’t be the “safe space” many students have recently demanded it become, particularly when it comes at the expense of silencing journalists.

In “The Fallacy of ‘Safe Space’ on College Campuses,” Pasha writes that dealing with real-world problems is a critical part of the maturation process for college students:

College is not a safe space. It was never intended to be. It is a place where debates can turn heated and ugly and the cruel realities of the world come crashing down on students, preparing them for the very real discourse they will face upon graduation. It is a time to grow out of the protective cocoon of childhood and face the fact that the world can be an unpleasant place.

Pasha, a woman of color and a Muslim, describes her own college experience, in which she was sometimes shocked upon encountering situations steeped in racism, sex, and violence. But she says students need to learn to navigate these complex situations, rather than asking to be “coddled.” Specifically, students should never attempt to intimidate or silence journalists, whom Pasha calls “the watchdog of the people.” As a professor, she tackles tough topics in class, without trigger warnings:

As a professor, I am sensitive to the needs of my students, but I cannot coddle them. I have had students walk out of a class when I taught about the horrific 2012 Delhi rape without offering a trigger warning. Another former student came to my office to demand an apology for showing an Al Jazeera report on the families of the Dimona suicide bombers in Israel because “terrorists do not deserve to have stories done about them that may humanize them in any way.” And I’ve had former students angered by class discussions on Ferguson and race relations in the country that offended them as white people.

Impeding journalism in the quest for safe spaces is a no-win situation. As a journalism instructor, I will be sending out the next generation of reporters to witness and report on the horrors of the world. If they cannot handle the stress of an uncomfortable class discussion, they will have a hard time in the profession.

You can read the rest of Pasha’s excellent post on MediaShift.