Content Warnings, Safe Spaces and Privilege. What could possibly go wrong?

***Content Note: Richard Dawkins: Nuff said. Mention of childhood sexual abuse.***
There’s a Richard Dawkins quote from Twitter about university and safe spaces doing the rounds.
“A university is not a “safe space”. If you need a safe space, leave, go home, hug your teddy & suck your thumb until ready for university.”
A friend posted this and agreed with it. I’m not in a good enough place for an internet argument with this person’s friends who also agree with it so I sent this as a PM.

If I remember correctly that Dawkins’ quote is in relation to Content Warnings as well as Safe Spaces. Content Warnings do not exist so that people with “delicate sensibilities” can get out of any lectures on that topic. Their purpose is so that people who may find certain topics triggering have advance notice and can be more prepared to encounter them. Or, if they are having a really bad time, can keep themselves safe until they can manage it.
I’ll give you a real life example of this. I went to see a play based on a much loved tv old series. Unfortunately the modern play decided that paedophilia was something to joke about. I freaked out and left part way through in tears. I wasn’t the only one. Four other people in our vicinity left with me. I didn’t know them. On my way home I remembered that a friend of mine who was a victim of a paedophile had tickets to this play later in the week. I called them, still in tears, and did my best to explain without spoilers but that wasn’t possible so I explained. They gave it some thought and decided they’d still go. However they said that if they’d encountered it the way I had they’d likely be running out like I did. That is what Content Warnings are for.
Safe Spaces allow people like me, people of colour, LGBT+, mentally ill, physically ill, and religious minorities to be able to interact without having those things used as weapons against us. And they are still used against us. I was a victim of a racially aggravated hate crime on Wednesday. Dawkins’ comment sounds like an irate toddler throwing a tantrum at not getting his own way. He doesn’t like having to respect people who are a bit different or may need different support to him. I believe we should be supporting people who need a bit more help to access higher education. It’s not just for able-bodied, mentally well, white, Christian, cis-het, well off people. That’s what Dawkins is saying. He seems to have zero respect or empathy for anyone who isn’t the same as him. Newsflash! Most people aren’t like him. We’re different and many of us have different needs.
Will some people abuse a safe space policy? Probably but getting rid of something just because a tiny, tiny minority of people are frauds is ridiculous. It’s like getting rid of disability benefits because only 99.3% of claimants are genuine. That’s messed up.
Dawkins doesn’t realise just how lucky he is. He has pretty much all the advantages and none of the disadvantages that others may have. He’ll probably never need a Safe Space for they are a lifeline for people like me. I know lots of people think like this but it’s still rather terrifying to be reminded of it.

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