A couple weeks ago, I reflected on the nature of safe spaces on university campuses, and my own safe space at the Christian Legal Society in my law school. I want to follow up with this idea about one facet of this discussion on free speech and safe spaces:
For most students, going off to college is their first time being homeschooled.
Most students who attended traditional schools had a separation between school and home life. In the morning, they would travel to a place where they would be exposed to differing and challenging perspectives. But in the evening, they would go home to a place of rest and respite. Of course, this isn’t true for all students in traditional schools. For too many students, home was not a place of sanctuary, but a place of danger. And the omnipresence of social media allows cyberbullying to creep into home life. But on the whole, students in traditional schools had a separation between school life and home life. In this way, their lives mirrored most working adults, for whom work was separated from home.
On the other hand, homeschooled students don’t have this separation. The same person that provides them with education also provides them with nurturing and discipline. While students can switch from “school mode” to “home mode”, it’s different than for students at traditional schools.
When college students arrive at a residential campus, they are faced with multiple messages. College is supposed to be a place to learn about interesting, challenging, and even painful ideas. But college is also supposed to be a place to grow as a person, to understand yourself, and to make lifelong friends. While these two impulses aren’t mutually exclusive, they can conflict. “University as Educator of Mind” doesn’t always align with “University as Nurturer of Self”.
It’s also true that some students feel more unfamiliar with their college spaces than others. For some students, it is harder to feel at home in college, because college is so different from home.
Students who ask for safe spaces can be criticized as trying to insulate themselves from the outside world. When they graduate, they will enter a work world that doesn’t have safe spaces. True enough, and I definitely disagree with the impulse to erect a bubble shield around the entire campus. But most working adults leave their jobs at the end of the shift and head home. Most people don’t live at work all day. Do college students have a similar place where they can rest?
Of course, all of this is armchair theorizing. I am not an educator or a psychologist, and I don’t have any empirical data. But I would be interested to know two things: (1) Do debates about free speech and safe spaces occur at the same level at a residential campus versus a commuter campus (at which students can leave school for home)? (2) Do homeschooled students have an easier time with the shift to a residential campus, given that they are accustomed to shifting between “school life” and “home life” in the same space? The latter question may be impossible to ask, since so many confounding factors exist, but worth pondering.
Oh, and some might find it weird to equate college with homeschooling. But you could substitute “boarding school” and the analogy still works.