on safe spaces
i often feel like the most authentic version of myself when i am in the classroom — figuratively, at least. when i am jane the policy adviser or jane the board member or jane the advocate, my views are tempered, strategically framed; i am conscious of my audience and the impact that i hope to achieve. as jane the scholar, though, i feel a little more empowered to be honest; to allow myself the space and time to process information and refine my own perspective; to represent myself and only myself.
perhaps this is why i was drawn back to undertake a doctorate. this is also why it is unacceptable to me that university communities are not safe, intellectually nourishing and accessible for everyone.
in the past week, i have written emails to the dean of my faculty to make formal complaints against a staff member.
that staff member’s history of stoking transphobia, using her academic credentials as a veneer of legitimacy, is well-documented. and whilst i certainly don’t need to be trans, and directly implicated in her rhetoric, to care — the associations between the ‘gender critical’ views that she promotes and white supremacist, far-right political movements that do name me as a target have become more obvious. we cannot pretend that the anti-trans rally that she enthusiastically participated in (and its relationship to neo-nazist activity, which she refuses to acknowledge and condemn) has not occurred in the same ideological context as the plastering of racist stickers across my university campus. we cannot ignore its connection to undue police violence against First Nations peoples and other people of colour, which i did not expect to witness so personally this week, and am still fighting to comprehend.
i am begging the university not to fall into the trap of non-performativity. freedom of thought and expression is sacred in the academy, but it also comes with responsibility, and consequences. you devalue what is sacrosanct about freedom of thought and expression when you allow it to be used as a cheap justification to enact harm.
to be clear: i don’t believe that a space is only safe if it protects all people from any kind of discomfort. conflict and ‘hard to swallow’ ideas and ugly feelings are inevitable in the processes of producing knowledge and building coalitions. we absolutely should experience and process discomfort in the classroom.
however, we also need to be enabled to do that experiencing and processing meaningfully, productively, and in the pursuit of social progress. and, surely, surely, there are some ideas that need to be left squarely in the past.
whether trans people exist, or should exist, or deserve human rights — this is not a ‘respect all points of view’ kind of debate, and it should not be entertained or facilitated by the academy.