If safe space dwelling students don’t want to enter the grown-up job market and workplace when they graduate, they may simply create their own parallel Identity Politics economy
Until now, the one source of comfort to those of us alarmed by the rise in student illiberalism and authoritarianism on university campuses in Britain and America has been the fact that those tyrannical student activists will soon face a day of reckoning when they graduate and find themselves in a job market which has no interest in nurturing their fragile egos.
Sadly, that source of comfort is now being taken away from us. Because a former academic from Winchester, Virginia has found a way to successfully monetise the safe space concept with a coffee shop designed for “marginalized populations”.
A new coffee shop in the city of Winchester is one of many, but its owners say the open and safe environment it provides is the only one of its kind in the city.
According to Victoria Kidd, part-owner of the Hideaway Cafe, coffee is not an “accessory beverage,” and grabbing your cup of joe requires a journey to reach your ideal destination.
“You’re looking for a coffee house that offers you a great atmosphere and offers you a great product served by people who care about your opinion of the coffee and care about your experience here,” Kidd said.
For Kidd and her wife, Christy, the journey to open the perfect coffee house started in July when they thought of the safe-space concept for the Hideaway Cafe.
Because why leave safe spaces and infantilised life behind at graduation when you can continue behaving in the same sheltered, censorious way right through adult life?
(No press reports as yet give any detail as to precisely what policies or behaviour codes will make the Hideaway Cafe a safe space, or how the safe space will be enforced).
Of course, the cafe’s proprietor fits the exact profile that one would expect:
“Well I never thought I’d be in coffee,” [Dr. Jess] Clawson admitted. “I have a Ph.D. in education. I’m an education historian, so I thought I would be teaching college right now and on the tenure track.”
According to Clawson, graduate school prepared her to co-own a coffee house.
She said the level of intensity in her master’s work translated well to creating drinks quickly and accurately.
She also mentioned that her dissertation was on the emergence of LGBT student visibility on Florida college campuses in the 70s and 80s.
Given her background, Clawson said she couldn’t refuse to be a part of the “safe space” business, which she said has been a long time coming.
Finding surprisingly little demand for her peerless knowledge of the LGBT university scene in 1970s Florida, Jess Clawson was forced to improvise and tenuously reapply her academic skills to the field of handcrafting caffeinated beverages. And so the Hideaway Cafe now exists to do for supposedly mature adults what campus safe spaces do for decidedly immature students – provide an intellectual cave where occupants can literally hide from scary ideas and the big bad world.
The Hideaway Cafe is not the first such institution to transform itself into a safe space venue. A coffee house at Claremont McKenna College did the same thing, though only on an ad hoc basis, and within an academic campus setting:
Safe spaces for minority students have appeared on the campuses of other Claremont Colleges as well. Last week, the Motley Coffeehouse at Scripps College issued a statement on its official Facebook page, “The Motley sitting room will be open tonight from 6-10 only for people of color and allies that they invite. Please feel free to come and use the space for whatever you need – decompress, discuss, grieve, plan, support each other, etc. In solidarity.”
But neither is Hideaway Cafe the first to bring the safe space concept to the outside world. Last year, Starbucks in Seattle announced that its stores would be working with the city police to turn their locations into safe places where victims of homophobic “hate crime” could wait until the police arrive.
Pink News reports:
The coffee chain has provided special training to its more than 2,000 Starbucks employees across 97 shops, training them to offer help to those who have been victims of hate crimes.
The initiative came about via a partnership with the Seattle Police Department, with special rainbow-coloured ‘SPD Safe Space’ stickers indicating each shop’s status. Staff will contact the authorities, ensuring victims are safe and allowing them to remain on the premises until police arrive.
The bold initiative is the first such take-up of a scheme by the chain, but Starbucks indicated that it would work with police departments elsewhere to set up ‘safe spaces’ in more cities.
This is somewhat less offensive – although the definition of “hate crime” is very vague and encapsulates many things which should probably be classified as protected free speech, at least the Starbucks safe spaces are reactive rather than anticipatory. They exist to help people who have been the victims of unpleasant homphobic experiences rather than seeking to restrict speech within the store lest somebody be offended.
But whether it is the Hideaway Cafe, the coffee shop at Claremont McKenna or your friendly local Starbucks, what is clear is that the idea of providing infantilising places of refuge for grown adults has escaped the college campus and is starting to be taken up in wider society – more ammunition for those of us who are constantly asked why we spend time fixating on something often portrayed as a niche student issue which poses no risk to wider society.
However, it cannot be said often enough that these censorious young generation now at university did not materialise out of thin air. Their self-centred outlook and inability to process contradictory or offensive ideas is very much a product of their environment and upbringing, and older people – including the liberal university administrators now being hounded and forced out of their jobs by emboldened student activists – bear much of the blame for having created a therapeutic culture and a climate which does not value free speech and is happy to place restrictions on freedom of expression for the comfort of others.
Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi goes further and suggests that older Americans are actually guilty of creating the first safe spaces and intellectual bubbles, long before they started appearing on college campuses.
But conservatives who get hysterical about the “delicate snowflakes” on campus should take a look at their own media-consumption habits. It’s hard to imagine anything funnier than a 70-year-old who watches 90 hours of Fox News a week and then rails against college kids who are afraid of new ideas.
But it’s not just Fox viewers. Most of the cable TV news industry is just a series of safe spaces. There are conservative channels and liberal channels, all of them huge seas of more or less unanimous opinion. Viewers tune in, suckle their thumbs, and wait to have their own opinions vomited back at them.
The commercial formula at the all-liberals-suck channel is the same as the one at the all-Republicans-are-boneheads channel. People in this country tend to follow politics in the same way they follow sports teams. They don’t think, they root.
The campus safe space movement is often derided as evidence of a rise of a newly censorious political left, a movement that’s ideological in character. And who knows, maybe that’s true. I don’t spend enough time on campuses to know.
But the safe space movement among the somewhat older members of the commercial media has virtually nothing to do with ideology, and everything to do with money.
The political punditry business is all about riling up an ad-consuming, subscription-buying demographic. We’re paid by the eyeball, and you don’t attract eyes by sticking fingers in them. So opinion-makers on both sides quickly learn to stay in their lanes.
If your job is throwing meat to wingers, you’re not going to suddenly start admitting Mexicans are people or criticizing the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
And Taibbi’s conclusion:
The modern American media consumer has a genuine mania for orthodoxy. We’ve habituated readers and viewers not just to expect content that caters to all their opinions down the line, but also to expect and demand a completely binary representation of the political landscape: blue and red, Us and Them.
Consumers on both sides don’t like pundits whose views are all over the place. They want white hats and black hats, allies and enemies, even though in real life most people are not wholly one thing or another. And when one of the performers steps off-script, it’s a “problem.”
To me this is consumerism, not political correctness. Capitalism in this country has become so awesomely efficient at target-scratching every conceivable consumer itch that it’s raised a generation of people with no tolerance for discomfort, particularly the intellectual kind.
There are so many products available now that customers have learned to demand that every single purchase choice they make be perfectly satisfying. People want nacho chips that taste awesome every time, and they want pundits who agree with them every time. They don’t want to fork over time or money to be told they’re wrong or uninformed any more than they want to eat a salad.
This is a very valid point. For what are Fox News and MSNBC if not media-based safe spaces for adults who live in their own ideological bubbles, rarely socialising or venturing otuside their own circle, and whose news consumption is driven less by a desire to hear the facts and reach their own conclusion than the lazy desire to have existing suspicions and prejudices constantly reinforced?
One can certainly criticise the illiberalism of today’s college students for seeking out safe spaces and pressuring their university administrations to enforce harsh new speech and behavioural codes on campus, but one cannot blame the students alone.
Growing up in an MSNBC or Fox News household where the other side are routinely demonised as being evil, traitorous, un-American or oppressive means that many students may arrive at university without ever having been in close quarters with somebody with a different political philosophy. And just as they experience the first twinges of surprise and discomfort at the discovery of non like-minded people, the campus Identity Politics brigade rides to the rescue, telling them that they are right to be upset, that they are uniquely oppressed and that they require ideologically policed safe spaces just to get through the traumatic years which await them at university. It is a toxic message, but a very powerful and compelling one for many young adults.
So by all means let’s criticise instances of campus authoritarianism when they occur. It is important that we continue shining a spotlight on these incidents and helping liberty-minded students push back and wrest control of their campuses away from the priests and priestesses of the cult of Identity Politics.
But we should not be so smug as to think that we who have left university (or who never went) are in any way superior. For it turns out that older generations have been monetising the idea of safe spaces for years before the Hideaway Cafe even opened for business, and many of us have been unwittingly helping them to do so.
More Tales from the Safe Space here.
Top Image: International Business Times
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