The Cavalier Daily
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EDITORIAL: Safe spaces must account for their diversity

In order to realize their missions, safe spaces must adopt formal mechanisms to promote internal dialogue

<p>Since the late twentieth century, these spaces were <a href=""><u>incorporated</u></a> into the daily life of universities as both clearly delineated physical <a href=""><u>spaces</u></a> and student organizations.&nbsp;</p>

Since the late twentieth century, these spaces were incorporated into the daily life of universities as both clearly delineated physical spaces and student organizations. 

In the 1960s and 70s, the women’s rights movement and the gay rights movement began to create safe spaces. These spaces were then incorporated into the daily life of universities as both clearly delineated physical spaces and identity-based student organizations. Over the past few years, however, these spaces have become increasingly politicized as conservatives critique what they incorrectly perceive to be the institutional pampering of Gen-Z snowflakes. It is undeniably clear that conservatives have misunderstood the nature and mission of safe spaces — they are not bubble wrap for “sheltered” students. Rather, they carve out places in which different identity-based groups experience the support which has always been afforded to white heterosexual men in all other spaces. 

Identity-based student organizations on Grounds have long been involved in overtly political matters. This involvement has recently taken the form of issuing statements regarding Black Lives Matter, abortion, affirmative action and the war in Gaza. However, the current constitutions of these student-run organizations largely do not contain procedures through which the general bodies of these organizations are consulted before decisions to support movements are undertaken. Essentially, many current constitutions do not contain mechanisms for dissent. This lack of procedural consultation undermines the mission of these spaces which is to provide support for a diverse group of people.

Currently, many of the constitutions of identity-based student organizations have mechanisms through which only executive boards are empowered to make any and all decisions regarding support for petitions, statements and referendums. For instance, the Asian Student Union’s constitution provides only that the “executive board will be in charge of making decisions as representatives of the organization.” Similarly, the support that the Queer Student Union gives to other organizations’ events is also determined at the discretion of their executive board. These are vague and centralized procedures which problematically supersede consultation of all invested members and create a situation in which attaching an organization’s name to a petition only connotes how the leadership of that organization feels. 

Identity-based student organizations may argue that they are obligated to attach their names to a wide array of statements and petitions in the name of collective liberation — an intellectual theory and activism strategy that describes the struggle of marginalized groups as inherently interconnected. The Editorial Board does not, in any way, contest these organizations’ right and duty to issue statements or support the statements of other organizations, nor do we contest the idea of collective liberation itself. However, collective liberation does not and should not preclude formal structures for accommodating dissenting voices. In fact, the very nature of collective liberation necessitates a sense of collaboration which — as things stand — is missing from the formal structures of many safe spaces on Grounds. 

Safe spaces, such as the aforementioned identity-based student organizations, give voice to diversity which has long been ostracized from and degraded in public spaces. However, in signing onto overtly political statements without appropriate measures for discourse, groups have over-simplified the diverse views of their members. As spaces which accentuate and valorize the diversity of our communities, it is imperative for identity-based student organizations to take seriously the diversity which exists within their organizations — and develop mechanisms to support this diversity. 

For example, University Democrats has exceptionally robust constitutional mechanisms through which disagreement with or support for statements can be expressed. A full general body meeting is required, and a three-fourths majority must be achieved before the organization adopts a position on an issue — though UDems might need a refresher course on how to use these mechanisms. UDems is not an identity-based student organization like the ones discussed above. Nevertheless, its procedures offer one possible constitutional path that other identity-based organizations can leverage to promote productive dialogue before a small group of individuals make decisions on behalf of an entire organization. 

Recently, the need for these formal mechanisms has become even clearer. In the aftermath of Oct. 7, many identity-based student organizations such as the Asian Student Union at U.Va. and Black Student Alliance signed onto a referendum and various statements with politically contentious language. While all of these groups have faced strong external backlash, it is ultimately the internal backlash which is more telling — it speaks to the difficulties such spaces face as they seek to accommodate members with multifaceted identities. Both the Queer Student Union and Asian Student Union have faced such internal backlash from members. For instance, one student explained that QSU’s support of a teach-in about Palestine made them feel as though they had to pick between being Jewish and being queer. 

It is important to realize that this is not the first time that identity-based student organizations have supported statements about controversial issues, so it is worth interrogating why the current war in Gaza has divided individuals with purportedly similar worldviews. But while this moment is unfortunately distinct in its polarity, safe spaces were and always will be home to a multitude of diverse perspectives. And formal mechanisms for dissent were and always will be necessary. This is simply a reality which has been heightened by the current moment.

Let us be clear — mechanisms which are designed to promote productive dialogues should not also prohibit supporting referendums or statements. The mechanisms we are advocating for, such as those found in the UDems constitution, simply ensure that democratic norms are upheld and diverse viewpoints are heard before the name of the entire organization is attached to a position. Upholding such norms will, in turn, work to validate and amplify the diversity which exists within all spaces in pluralistic societies — including safe spaces. 

Safe spaces were never intended to be entirely uniform. Rather, they were intended to connect people around one manifestation of their identity — race, gender, sexuality, etc. — while accommodating and celebrating their diversity in other aspects. Mechanisms to promote dialogue will only further this mission and help ensure the longevity of these spaces which are a vital part of the University’s mission to cultivate and support a diverse student body. 

The Cavalier Daily Editorial Board is composed of the Executive Editor, the Editor-in-Chief, the two Opinion Editors, the two Senior Associates and an Opinion Columnist. The board can be reached at


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