UK Town Hall Explores Safe Space Debate

Sep 19, 2016

Constitution Day wrapped up at the University of Kentucky Monday night with a town hall forum sure to spark discussion.

Credit Josh James / WUKY

Safe spaces, trigger warnings, microaggressions – these terms will be familiar to anyone paying even passing attention to campus debates in recent years.

During the 90-minute panel, representatives from UK’s College of Law, Gender Studies program, LGBTQ resource office, and other departments dug deep into the history of the concepts, the media’s part in shaping the controversy, and what role the 1st Amendment plays.

Moderator and Gaines Center for the Humanities director Dr. Phil Harling said universities generally strive to be welcoming communities for students and faculty from divergent backgrounds, "but increasingly there's seems to be at least an implicit tension between that role of the university campus and the traditional role of the university campus as a place ideas are contested, where they are debated, where there is a great deal of latitude for people to express opinions that may very well be found obnoxious by certain other members of that large and diverse audience that is a state university."

Speakers touched on a number of high-profile cases, including the 2015 resignation of a Yale University faculty member following student protests over an email she wrote regarding offensive Halloween costumes. More recently, in April, concerns raised by Emory University students over pro-Donald Trump chalk messages led to meetings between school officials and student groups.

The UK forum capped off a day of events, from a voter registration session to programs highlighting international perspectives on freedom of speech and Supreme Court decisions on gender and sexuality.