Safe spaces: What Are They, and Why They Matter?

Photography by Jay Lee

Recently I have been in a few discussions with people about safe spaces, both people who are baffled by the subject of safe spaces and folks who notice the lack of them.

What is a safe space?

A safe space is a place in which a comfortable zone is created for folks to express themselves freely without the fear of oppression that exists outside of that space. A place in which as a minority you are not to be “challenged on account of biological sex, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, cultural background…”

Certain spaces are advertised as safe because they tend to create a space where minorities from certain or several minority groups will have the opportunity to spend time with folks who have had similar experiences as them.

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Sometimes a safe space can feel safe for a person in one way but possibly still make them feel uncomfortable in other ways. For example As a woman of colour I can attend an event that advertises to be safe for women, but still fails to cater to the safety of people of colour, so I could somewhat feel safe as a woman but still feel unsafe as a person of colour. This then reflects on intersectional failures.

Why are these spaces important?

Because for most people who experience oppression, most spaces are unsafe. Most public spaces such as Nightclubs, bars, panel discussion events, even restaurants.

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The sense of not fitting in, and being othered in spaces or tokenized, can be very emotionally harming, which is why it’s necessary for individuals who feel othered in most spaces to have a place, such as; a social event, workshops, or political meetings, in which they can meet others who feel the same, and have a space in which they can freely express themselves without being challenged by hateful and ignorant voice. This doesn’t mean safe spaces are a safe haven, personally,  I see it more as a principle. It is possible to still feel unsafe in a safe space, but because of the principles, it is simpler to resolve such issues.

Counter arguments

Here are some arguments against safe spaces that I have come across recently?

“It’s a place to hide”

It is not a hiding place if you’re part of a marginalised group you are not vulnerable or looking for a hiding place. Safe spaces are an empowering space for marginalised individuals to come together and empower each other.

“It’s a place for prejudice”

Gathering with folks who have experienced oppression, is not about hating on oppressors, but more about sharing love and solidarity for your community that experiences systematic failures.

“Everyone should be allowed everywhere”

In September 2016, Prime Minister Theresa May hit out at universities for implementing “safe space” policies amid concerns that self-censorship is curtailing freedom of speech on campuses. The Prime Minister said it was “quite extraordinary” for Universities to ban the discussion of certain topics which could cause offence. “

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What are some safe spaces?

  • Safe spaces policy at UAL:
  • UAL Trans and Nonbinary meetups:

This year UAL LGBTQ Society have started organising monthly Trans and nonbinary meet ups, a safe space for you to meet fellow trans and nonbinary folk.

Here’s a list of some of the social spaces created to cater as safe spaces to women, queer folk, and people of colour, this list was created by our panelist the artist Rebekah Ubuntu and presented at the Women and non-binary event last October:

 

  • HYSTERIA

 

Shades of Noir safe space policy:

“Shades of Noir is committed to providing an inclusive and supportive space for all

attendees at our events. SoN believes all guests should be free from intimidation

or harassment, resulting from prejudice or discrimination on the grounds of

age, disability, marital or maternity/paternity status, race, religious beliefs, sexual

orientation, gender identity, trans status, socio-economic status, or ideology or

culture, or any other form of distinction.”