When Brown University in the U.S. planned a debate on campus sexual assault that included a libertarian speaker who was likely to challenge the prevalent notion of "rape culture", Katherine Byron, a member of the school's Sexual Assault Taskforce swung into action:
Ms. Byron and some fellow task force members secured a meeting with administrators. Not long after, Brown’s president, Christina H. Paxson, announced that the university would hold a simultaneous, competing talk to provide “research and facts” about “the role of culture in sexual assault.” Meanwhile, student volunteers put up posters advertising that a “safe space” would be available for anyone who found the debate too upsetting.
The safe space, Ms. Byron explained, was intended to give people who might find comments “troubling” or “triggering,” a place to recuperate. The room was equipped with cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies, as well as students and staff members trained to deal with trauma. Emma Hall, a junior, rape survivor and “sexual assault peer educator” who helped set up the room and worked in it during the debate, estimates that a couple of dozen people used it. At one point she went to the lecture hall — it was packed — but after a while, she had to return to the safe space. “I was feeling bombarded by a lot of viewpoints that really go against my dearly and closely held beliefs,” Ms. Hall said.
The article, by Judith Shulevitz, catalogues many other similar examples of the "safe space" mentality shutting down debate on University campuses in the US and the UK.
In general, I don't think it helps matters much for a white (albeit non-heterosexual) male like me to rant and rave about the extreme strain of political correctness that appears to have infected university campuses these days (for what it's worth, I am firmly on Team Chait). These are serious issues, and reactionary lashing out at PC culture, while a lot of fun, is as misguided as excessive political correctness itself.
But seriously: videos of frolicking puppies? Play-Doh? At an Ivy League School while a debate took place at which someone might say something to offend you? A debate you were under no obligation to attend?
Indefensibly, pathetically, precious.
As one commenter on the NY Times story said:
On almost every page of the New York Times I find information that is troubling and goes against my dearly and closely held beliefs. For God's sake, I just read Ross Douthat's column. Rather than suck my thumb and retreat to a "safe" room full of kindergarten toys, I was glad to read it and learn what conservatives think, because only then can I understand that reality and know how to counter it, or defend myself against it.