Safe Spaces are for the privileged, not the oppressed

Are you an American college student who likes to censor speech you find offensive? If so, you might need to check your privilege. 

According to a recent study by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and the Brookings Institute, US colleges with the most well-off students experience the most instances of censorship. 

The study focused in particular on disinviting speakers. More often than not, speakers were shut down simply because they held opinions wealthy students don’t want to hear.

This has become familiar in the US. Condoleezza Rice for commencement speaker? That’s oppression! Conservative or libertarian guest lecturer in a political science class? Microaggression! Students having the freedom to choose the Halloween costume of their liking? Cultural appropriation! The campus hysteria is childish, the work of people who got a participation trophy all the way through grade school.

The controversial author Charles Murray was a more recent target. When he spoke at Middlebury College recently he was greeted by protesters. The topic of his speech? The growing divide between wealthy and working-class white folks. Though the protest focused on Murray’s controversial work on race, there’s an irony in a group of well-to-do students protesting at a talk about the class divide.

Indeed, the students at Middlebury are precisely the sort of people Murray says are becoming more and more isolated from working-class white folk. Which is part of the reason many of them are so intolerant of Trump voters. For these students, it is more important to virtue-signal your progressive politics than it is to challenge ideas in open, free debate.

For years, left-liberals have been telling moderates, conservatives and libertarians to ‘check their privilege’. In the name of raising awareness about social-justice issues, they have condescendingly barked down their peers. But this is not really about helping the underprivileged. Safe Spaces and speech codes are presented as ways to help oppressed communities. But they are now used by the well-off to cushion their feelings.

There’s nothing more privileged than demanding no one ever hurt your feelings. 

Matthew Boyer is a writer based in the US.

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