In 2016, the University of Chicago’s welcome letter to the incoming freshman class of 2020 informed students that it would not support “trigger warnings” or a culture of safe spaces. The Dean of Students John Ellison declared that at the academic institution “…we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own."
Both Dean Ellison and the University of Chicago are brazenly at odds with many of this country’s institutions of higher education. At The Quintessential Centrist, we believe that they are correct.
Safe spaces are an outgrowth of both the feminist and LGBTQ movements as they provided a forum for those who felt marginalized from the norms of society. The idea was to be able to speak freely and communicate effectively without suffering vilification. Unfortunately, what was intended to create a protective environment has permeated the intellectual sphere to the point where, at best, divergence of opinion is stifled and freedom of thought is met with vindictive backlash.
Conservatives are now clamoring for the same, not least because they feel increasingly isolated and are now pushing for a safe space culture where they, too, can freely express their views without risking character assassination. This is an absurd and short-sighted response. An article published inon January, 5 2019 delved further into this issue. The journalist cited a work from National Affairs where arguments were presented by Frederick M. Hess and Brendan Bell from the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. The two scholars asserted that conservatives needed "an ivory tower of our own,” which is clearly a politically loaded turn of phrase. The insinuation is that safe spaces created by liberals are tantamount to creating idyllic and unrealistic isolation from the real world while also imposing intellectual restrictions of alternative points of view. While Hess and Bell are correct in referring to safe spaces as an “ivory tower,” fighting fire with fire won’t put out the flames of dissent.
The Quintessential Centrist rejects the concept of liberal or conservative-driven safe spaces. In our view, it defeats the notion of what free speech is intended to promote and implies that civil discourse, irrespective of political leanings, is a fundamentally unviable concept in America, a nation founded in-part on its differences. The immigrants who have made up this nation represent every race, religion and creed. Many, starting with the Pilgrims, came to this country to escape oppression -- be it of thought, religion, political leanings, gender bias, or homophobia. Interestingly, this chasm between the left and the right has been growing fervently since even before the election of President Donald Trump.
According to, Harvard University is the 2nd best university in the United States, trailing only Princeton. Earlier this month, however, Harvard made a failing grade. In an act of cowardice, the university caved into a group of students who expressed disdain that Harvard law Professor Ronald Sullivan was among a group of attorneys representing accused sexual predator Harvey Weinstein.
This resulted in Harvard removing Professor Sullivan from Winthrop house, an undergraduate residence hall where he lived and served as a faculty dean. Mr. Sullivan was subsequently stripped of his title as faculty dean - an unacceptable and humiliating way to lose a title he earned ~10 years ago when he became the first black faculty Dean to lead an undergraduate residence hall at Harvard. His wife, Stephanie Robinson, a faculty dean in her own right and also a lecturer at Harvard, sadly became collateral damage in the debacle. Unfortunately, she too was removed and stripped of her title as Dean as well. While Professor Sullivan and his wife will continue to teach at Harvard Law, they are no longer welcome to serve as undergraduate Deans.
That Harvard acquiesced to a group of students’ fantastical claims that having Professor Sullivan continue in his roles at the University was anxiety-producing and contributed to a hostile and unsafe learning environment, is absurd.
In our view, Harvard, a clear global education leader needs to re-examine its priorities and its raison d’etre. Colleges and universities are supposed to shape mores while simultaneously embracing freedom of individuality and choice. Regrettably, by removing Mr. Sullivan, Harvard created an idyllic and unrealistic isolation from the real world for a coddled group of undergraduates. In this case, it also imposed unreasonable professional restrictions on a distinguished faculty member. Although Professor Sullivan was under no obligation to do so, he took a proactive (and costly) step and resigned from Weinstein’s defense team (there were rumblings about Sullivan being concerned for the safety of his family). In the spirit of maintaining order and continuity at Harvard, following these campus protests he made this difficult decision. Ultimately, it was all for naught, as his employer neutered him anyway.