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Syracuse Dean Emeritus Calls for ‘Less Safety and More Honesty’

In a guest column yesterday for The Post-Standard’s, Syracuse University professor and former dean of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, David Rubin, called for “fewer self-validating listening sessions and more edgy dialogues.” He wrote the opinion piece after attending an SU “listening session” on student concerns about race relations on campus that Rubin wrote ended up being more like an echo chamber:

Much of the discussion ... addressed personal issues: that the campus was not a "safe space" for them; that they were constantly subjected to "micro-aggressions" by an insensitive white majority; and that the campus was not sufficiently diverse or integrated.

Rubin wrote that “[t]he ‘discussion’ was airless and self-validating”:

[S]ome of the complaints demanded responses that never came. One student said a music faculty member was unaware of the latest musical trends in this student's culture. The student felt this was a micro-aggression against her. Why didn't this young woman simply offer, in a friendly way, to visit the faculty member and introduce this new music? A micro-aggression? Please.

Rubin added that while he doesn’t question the sincerity of the students’ concerns, “if students and administrators want to bring about change, this meeting and future meetings face two serious problems”:

First, the people who need to hear these cries—the majority white faculty, staff, and student body--were largely not in the room. For them this was not a safe space to be, a concept that cuts two ways, although I don't think the attendees at this meeting realize this.

Second, it was not a safe space because there was no true discussion, which is how change comes about in a democratic society. Not once in more than 90 minutes did anyone stand and say "I disagree with what was just said," or "I have another perspective on that."

FIRE’s position is that campuses that protect open and robust dialogue—as the path toward resolution of even the most difficult of today’s campus issues—are the safest spaces of all. As Rubin notes,

Painful though it may be, hashing out differences by listening to the offensive speech of others is what brings about change. And I assume the students and the administration really do want change, and not just listening sessions to keep a tenuous peace. Until a truly safe space for wide-open and robust debate of these issues is created, these listening sessions will not further the university's goals.

More SU listening sessions are expected to take place next semester.

You can read Rubin’s full column on The Post-Standard’s website.

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