In the past several years, I’ve heard a lot of discussion about “safe spaces” on university campuses. The phrase “safe spaces” has been given different definitions by different people (sometimes to further different political goals). At a baseline, a safe space is a place where people with similar perspectives can meet together. I have heard some express concern that “safe spaces” suffocate intellectual discourse and prevent students from engaging with differing worldviews.
It’s true that “safe space” can be mobilized to shut down diverging views. But it’s also important for students’ psychological well-being. Let me tell you about one of my safe spaces.
My law school had a chapter of the Christian Legal Society. CLS is a non-denominational fellowship of Christian law students, lawyers, and judges. Every Monday at lunch, CLS would hold a Bible study. We would get together, catch up, read the Bible, and pray. I really appreciated these Bible studies, as they gave me a place to connect with other Christian law students over our achievements and struggles. We turned to each other for prayer and support, especially in difficult times.
Did my involvement in CLS limit my ability to engage with differing worldviews? Not at all. I was happy to talk with people of all kinds of religious persuasions. But CLS gave me a place to rest and not worry about having to explain what I believe.
Did I need CLS at school to have a safe space? Not necessarily, but it was a huge help. I was part of a local church community with Christians who were not law students. But I found it helpful to have a space dedicated specifically for Christian law students. When I told people that I was frustrated with God because I didn’t get a job through OCI, the members of CLS knew what I meant.
Was CLS an exclusive place that didn’t allow for opposing views? Not necessarily. Non-Christians were always welcome to come in. But if someone came and started talking about how God is fake, Jesus never existed, and we are all fools for believing in Christianity, I would have asked that person to leave. It’s not that I was afraid of engaging with these questions. But that’s not what the CLS Bible study was about. I wanted to preserve that space for its intended purpose—supporting and encouraging other Christian law students.
Having CLS as a safe space helped me to get through law school. It helped me bring more of myself to the classroom, because I had a place to find rest at school.
I don’t think that “safe space” should be used to shut down inquiry and free speech. But I do want other students to have something like what I had with CLS: a place to let your guard down and feel at home.