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YUSU Elections: The Presidential Candidates on Safe Spaces

One of the more controversial topics of discussion, of late, has been the idea of the Safe Space – a beautifully buzzing phrase that seems to lack one clear definition, but which appears to revolve around the idea of a right to withdraw oneself from dialogues and conversations that are seen as harmful. With detractors speaking of a betrayal of the traditional ethos and culture of Universities, and proponents equally vocal on the importance of allowing students to remove themselves from situations they find damaging, it only seemed proper for York Liberty to ask YUSU Presidential hopefuls to weigh in.

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What facilities should be made available at the University to students who feel threatened by some views, opinions or debates to remove themselves from environments in which those are present?

Millie Beach – “• A breakout room from the event so that students attending can leave for a while if the event becomes a trigger.

• An opportunity for students to challenge ideas while not having to attend the event, perhaps through a spokesperson or through the chair.

• Good signposting for any students who feel threatened by the debate.”

Ciaran Morrissey – “The University should provide functioning doorways and navigable paths to allow students to remove themselves from environments in which views they find disagreeable are being discussed or argued. Again, I think that if a debate has a particularly triggering nature, then this should be highlighted, but once these elements are highlighted, the decision to attend, and any effects on mental wellbeing that may result from this, are the responsibility of the student, not the speaker, nor the society hosting, nor YUSU, nor the University.”

Habib Nassar – “So that it is possible for students who feel threatened by some views, opinions or debates to remove themselves it is important that none of these ideas are expressed in spaces that it is impossible to avoid. For example, an outside space on campus that students need to pass through to access their lectures and seminars of course wouldn’t be an appropriate place to have a speaker on a loudspeaker.”

“Also, there should always be an easily accessible complaint contact for everyone at the university. It is very important to report any incidence where someone feels threatened. This should lead to a serious discussion about whether that idea is reasonable to express in a public space, should be expressed only in a space sufficiently private that listeners are empowered with a decision to receive it or not, or if that view is directly threatening such that it should not be voiced at all. The university should make it as easy as possible to contact the specific staff member(s) relative to the complaint who in turn should be readily trained to deal with the different situations that might arise from welfare and legal points of view.”

JJ Wilson – “A new phone-line which will allow them to discuss their view in a private and safe environment.”

Oliver Wilson – “I’m committed to an open and accessible Students’ Union; that’s why I’m going to give out free tea, every Monday of term, in the Library. Should any student feel threatened by views at university, I would be happy to lend an impartial, helpful ear to their concerns. Given diversity of opinions at York, and the different circumstances in which problems arise, I think that this is best tackled on a case-by-case basis.”

Ananna Zaman – “There should be physical spaces for liberation networks and anyone who feels threatened or deeply upset by these views and it should be personalised and turned into a community space where they can go without fear of harassment and confidence they will be treated with respect.”