Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Safe Spaces

I'm pretty sure I have subbed at Roosevelt for the last time this school year, unless something comes up tomorrow or next week. It's unlikely for next week since they only have three days of school and most of those days are exams. One of the things I noticed subbing there were these little stickers on many of the classroom doors that said "Safe Space". They are from the website and are to mark the room as a "safe space" for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender students (LGBT). Being in a fairly liberal town like Kent I wasn't surprised at all to see them there, though they got me thinking about the whole concept.

As an educator, one of the things I remember having drilled into my head on many occasions was the idea of creating a safe environment in the classroom. Basically, every student should feel safe and comfortable in your classroom if you're doing things correctly. So seeing these stickers on so many doors definitely had me thinking "shouldn't they already be safe spaces for LGBT students as well as any other students at Roosevelt?" The answer is of course a resounding YES. I certainly don't have a problem with LGBT students feeling safe at school. No one should have fear going into a school or a specific classroom; fear of the teacher or the fellow students. Bullying is still too much of a problem at any school, Roosevelt included, because so much of it happens outside the view of teachers and administrators. Sadly, from my own experience in school, even bullying and similar actions that actually do occur in view of teachers is often ignored which, of course, simply perpetuates the problem. It is irrelevant why the bullying or harassment is taking place. Whether it be because of the student's sexual orientation (or perceived sexual orientation), their looks, their religion and/or ideology, or any other reason, it's all the same in terms of promoting an unsafe and negative environment for students. It's one thing to state that bullying and harassment aren't tolerated; it's an entirely different thing to actually enforce that rule and stop them in their tracks when they are witnessed firsthand.

Seeing these also got me thinking about the whole "gay rights" movement in general and their claims of fighting for equality. In reality, it's not so much about equality for everyone, but just for their specific group. The website that promotes and sells these stickers and other related materials is pretty specific that these are to specifically help promote safe spaces and environments for LGBT students first and foremost. Again, I'm not opposed to safe environments for any student, but why do these students need extra special attention? There are all sorts of "minorities" in a given school. I'd be willing to bet that everyone is part of some sort of minority whether it be racial, ethnic, ideological, religious, etc with some being part of more than one. To put in in perspective, as a Latter-day Saint (Mormon) I was one of just 10 students out of around 1,400 at Roosevelt High School my senior year. This year there were just 4 LDS students in the entire school. There were a lot of bizarre ideas and misconceptions about what I believed and while I never experienced any direct persecution because of my religion, I did, at times, feel uncomfortable expressing what would be considered more conservative viewpoints in a discussion. I would not be supportive if the school decided to make Mormon "Safe Spaces" like this because it would only further separate members of the church from the rest of the student body and perpetuate the "us and them" mentality. That's what I see here. In our eagerness to protect a group of our students--by all means a good thing--we are in fact separating them and potentially creating more resentment towards them. What about the 12% of the school that is black? Or the even smaller percentage of other races and ethnicities? And it bears mention...would we be so quick to bring the hammer down on name-calling and persecution towards those with conservative and/or religious beliefs? So much of the campaign against Proposition 8 in California claimed to be against the "hate" it was promoting, but one of the biggest ways too many groups "fought" this "hate" was by using hate back in the form of insults, slanders, generalizations, and even violence and property damage. Using hate to fight hate doesn't solve anything and makes the alleged victim as much a perpetrator and guilty as the people they are fighting. When you use fire to right fire, everyone gets burned.

So, if/when I have my own classroom, will I have this sticker on my door? I think the answer is pretty obvious: NO. My reasoning is that it would be inaccurate; not because my classroom would be unsafe for LGBT students, but more because it would be a "safe space" for all students including them. Do I think Roosevelt teachers are favoring LGBT students? No not really. In all honesty I don't think many have even looked at it from this angle. They see it as something good (and it is) and want to show support for diversity and tolerance but fail to see the hidden and unintended messages such a promotion sends to other groups or individuals who are also subject to persecution and harassment. In the end, every classroom needs to be a safe space for every student. And if you truly are for equal rights and equal treatment, make sure that applies to all races, ethnicities, ideologies, religions, etc. and not just certain ones; even ones you may completely disagree with! If you're just for the improved treatment of a specific group, say it! Don't make it out to be all inclusive if it isn't.