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An inverted pink triangle surrounded by a green circle, as used to symbolize alliance with gay rights and space free from homophobia.[1]

In educational institutions, safe space (or safe-space), safer space, and positive space are terms that, as originally intended, were used to indicate that a teacher, educational institution, or student body did not tolerate anti-LGBT violence, harassment or hate speech, thereby creating a safe place for all LGBT students.[2] The term safe space has been extended to refer to an autonomous space for individuals who feel marginalized to come together to communicate regarding their experiences with marginalization, typically on a university campus.[3] The idea of safe spaces has seen criticism on the grounds that it stifles freedom of speech.[4][5][6] Critics also claim safe spaces hinder the exposure of sensitive material that needs to be discussed and explained in an educational environment.[citation needed]


The Islamic Council of Victoria (ICV) which claims to represent 200,000 Muslims in Victoria stated that the Muslim community suffered mental health and other problems due to the suspicions to which it is subjected. The ICV proposed that Islamic community groups be given funds to create "safe spaces" where "inflammatory" issues could be discussed without being judged.[7] The proposal was rejected by government and instigated a review of government funding towards the ICV.[7][8]


Positive Space initiatives are prevalent in post-secondary institutions across Canada including the University of Western Ontario, McGill University, the University of Toronto, Algonquin College, the University of British Columbia, and Queen's University.[9][10][11][12]

United Kingdom[edit]

In early 2015 the increasing adoption of safe spaces in UK universities aroused controversy due to accusations that they were used to stifle free speech and differing political views.[13]

In April 2016, a member of the Edinburgh University Students' Association was subject to a vote on whether to be expelled from a meeting within a safe-space for violating rules about making gestures of disagreement; the vote went in her favour. She had waved her arms in disgust with a claim made against her by another speaker.[14]

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. She warned that stifling free speech could have a negative impact on Britain's economic and social success.[15]

United States[edit]

In the United States the concept originated in the women's movement, where it "implies a certain license to speak and act freely, form collective strength, and generate strategies for resistance...a means rather than an end and not only a physical space but also a space created by the coming together of women searching for community." The first safe spaces were gay bars and consciousness raising groups.[16]

In 1989 Gay & Lesbian Urban Explorers (GLUE) developed a safe spaces program. During their events including diversity-training sessions and antihomophobia workshops, they passed out magnets with an inverted pink triangle, "ACT UP's...symbol", surrounded by a green circle to, "symbolize universal acceptance," and asked, "allies to display the magnets to show support for gay rights and to designate their work spaces free from homophobia."[17]

Advocates for Youth states on their website that a safe-space is "A place where anyone can relax and be fully self-expressed, without fear of being made to feel uncomfortable, unwelcome or challenged on account of biological sex, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, cultural background, age, or physical or mental ability; a place where the rules guard each person's self-respect, dignity and feelings and strongly encourage everyone to respect others."[18] However, some people consider safe space culture as a violation of the First Amendment and a mechanism for retreating from opinions which contrast with one's own.[19]

In general, these may be individuals or institutions which support a safe space for LGBT students and employees. They may offer or mandate staff training on diversity, include being a safe space in the organization's mission statement, develop and post a value statement in the organization's office, online, or on printed documents, or, if part of a coalition, encourage the coalition to include being a safe space in its mission and values.[20]


Writing for The New York Times, journalist Judith Shulevitz distinguished between meetings where participants mutually consent to provide a safe space, and attempts to make entire dormitories or student newspapers safe spaces. According to Shulevitz, the latter is a logical consequence of the former: "Once you designate some spaces as safe, you imply that the rest are unsafe. It follows that they should be made safer." The same article gave the following example of a safe space at Brown University, when libertarian Wendy McElroy, who was known for criticizing the term "rape culture" was invited to give a speech: "The safe space, Ms. Byron [unreferenced?] 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."[21] Critics accused the college of infantilizing the students.[22][23][24]

Journalist Conor Friedersdorf criticized the use of outdoor safe spaces to block press coverage of student protests. According to Friedersdorf, such uses reverse the intent of safe spaces: "This behavior is a kind of safe-baiting: using intimidation or initiating physical aggression to violate someone's rights, then acting like your target is making you unsafe."[25]

Milo Yiannopoulos, a conservative British journalist and public speaker, has repeatedly spoken out against safe spaces, citing their threat to freedom of speech and restriction of education.[26] His views are closely supported by other conservative speakers such as Christina Hoff Sommers[27] and Steven Crowder.[28]

Not all criticism has come from social conservatives. British actor and writer Stephen Fry has criticised safe spaces and trigger warnings as infantilising students and possibly eroding free speech.[29] Frank Furedi of the Los Angeles Times and Candace Russell of The Huffington Post have similarly stated that safe spaces contribute to echo chambers surrounded by like minded people, insulating those inside said chambers from hostile or negative speech.[30][31]

In popular culture[edit]

"Safe Space", a 2015 episode of the animated comedy series South Park, lampooned the concept of safe-spaces.[32]

The country duo of Chad Prather and Steve "Mudflap" McGrew turned the 1990 Garth Brooks song "Friends in Low Places" into "Friends in Safe Spaces," which lampooned the practice.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Nicole Christine Raeburn (2004). Changing Corporate America from Inside Out: Lesbian and Gay Workplace Rights. University of Minnesota Press. p. 209. ISBN 978-0-8166-3998-4. 
  2. ^ Waldman, Katy (2016-09-05). "What science can tell us about trigger warnings". Retrieved 2016-09-10. 
  3. ^ Amenabar, Teddy (19 May 2016). "The New Vocabulary of Protest". The Washington Post. Retrieved 15 July 2016. 
  4. ^ "Safe spaces are not the only threat to free speech". The Guardian. 16 September 2016. 
  5. ^ "Stephen Fry: Campus Safe Spaces Are Stupid and Infantile". 12 April 2016. 
  6. ^ "The tyranny of safe spaces". Retrieved 26 January 2017. 
  7. ^ a b "Muslim 'safe space' plan sparks row in Australia". BBC News. 2017-06-08. Retrieved 2017-06-11. 
  8. ^ "Vic Islamic Council funding under review". NewsComAu. Retrieved 2017-06-11. 
  9. ^ Office of Student Life. "Positive Space Campaign". University of Toronto. Retrieved 18 June 2011. 
  10. ^ Queen's Positive Space Program. "The Queen's Positive Space Program". Queen's University. Retrieved 18 June 2011. 
  11. ^ Positive Space. "The Positive Space Campaign". University of British Columbia. Retrieved 18 June 2011. 
  12. ^ Safe Campus. "Safe Campus". University of Western Ontario. Retrieved 4 August 2017. 
  13. ^ Dunt, Ian (6 February 2015). "Safe space or free speech? The crisis around debate at UK universities". The Guardian. 
  14. ^ Mann, Sebastian (5 April 2016). "Student 'violated university safe space rule... by raising her arm at a meeting'". Evening Standard. Retrieved 9 May 2016. 
  15. ^ Hughes, Laura (14 September 2016). "Theresa May hits out at universities 'safe spaces' for stifling free speech". The Telegraph. Retrieved 14 September 2016. 
  16. ^ Kenney, Moira Rachel (2001). Mapping Gay L.A.: The Intersection of Place and Politics. p. 24. ISBN 1-56639-884-3. 
  17. ^ Raeburn, Nicole C. (2004). Changing Corporate America from Inside Out: Lesbian and Gay Workplace Rights. p. 209. ISBN 0-8166-3999-X. 
  18. ^ "Glossary". Advocates for Youth. Retrieved 24 March 2012. 
  19. ^ volanteonline (19 September 2016). "Safe spaces disrupt the First Amendment". 
  20. ^ "Tips and Strategies for Creating a Safe Space for GLBTQ Youth". Advocates for Youth. Retrieved 24 March 2012. 
  21. ^ Shulevitz, Judith (March 21, 2015). "In College and Hiding From Scary Ideas". Op-ed. New York Times. Retrieved December 23, 2015. 
  22. ^ Bigelow, William (March 23, 2015). "'Infantilized' College Students Need 'Safe Spaces' to Avoid Scary Free Speech". Breitbart.
  23. ^ Soave, Robby (March 22, 2015). "Students Are Literally 'Hiding from Scary Ideas,' Or Why My Mom's Nursery School Is Edgier Than College". Reason.
  24. ^ Nordlinger, Jay (November 30, 2015). "Underground at Brown". National Review.
  25. ^ Friedersdorf, Conor (November 10, 2015). "Campus Activists Weaponize 'Safe Space'". Politics. The Atlantic. Retrieved December 23, 2015. 
  26. ^ The Triggering: Has Political Correctness Gone Too Far? on YouTube (April 25, 2016)
  27. ^ Arnold, Tyler (October 14, 2016). "Safe spaces a 'recipe for fanaticism,' Hoff Sommers claims". Campus Reform.
  28. ^ Howerton, Jason (April 26, 2016). "Comedian Steven Crowder Dishes Out Brutal, Nearly 5-Minute ‘Reality Check’ to ‘Social Justice Warriors’ When They Interrupt Event". TheBlaze.
  29. ^ George, Bowden (11 April 2016). "Stephen Fry Speaks About Erosion Of ‘Free Speech’ On Student Campuses In Controversial Rubin Report Interview". Huffington Post. Retrieved 25 August 2016. 
  30. ^ Furedi, Frank (2017-01-05). "Campuses are breaking apart into 'safe spaces'". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2017-04-27. 
  31. ^ Russell, Candice (2015-04-13). "Safe Spaces and Echo Chambers, How Progressive Movements Stagnate Themselves". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2017-04-27. 
  32. ^ Caffrey, Dan (October 22, 2015). "The cake metaphor comes back on another solid episode of South Park". The A.V. Club.

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