As a generation, we have overused and hijacked the phrase “safe space” to the extent that many students don’t know what it can do for us, be it protection from white male privilege or comfort for members of the LGBTQ community.
For me, the definition of a safe space is clear. Those who are not persecuted for their sexuality, namely heterosexuality, do not need a safe space; in this context, they are already safe. This is a place where people who may feel uncomfortable or unaccepted because of their sexual orientation can know that they have their peers’ support.
Now, I’m not suggesting we create a room somewhere in the depths of Mac's basement with a rainbow flag on the door and a sign that reads, “You are now entering the safe space of Boston College.” A safe space is a concept, or vibe, that lets every student know that they do not have to remain inside the dark, dank BC closet.
The lack of discussion and overall support of the LGBTQ community here at BC was remarkably shocking to me after four years at a high school where the halls emanated safety. Every single classroom door or whiteboard boasted a sign that read, “This is a safe space, you guys.” These small signs may seem frivolous to the readers who are privileged in comfort and acceptance, but for those who struggle every day to hide a part of who they are, it relieves the smallest bit of pressure from their shoulders.
Though I speak from the privileged vantage point of this argument, I write on behalf of my best friend in high school and many others like her. Even when promoting safety on classroom doors, it took my best friend until senior year to come out to me and our school. For almost four years she walked to class, dominated in sports, studied in the library, ate in the dining hall, and spent weekends feeling that if she showed her true self to everyone, some of her peers might not accept her. Yet, she told me, when she sat down in a classroom and saw a safe space sign, or when a classmate raised their hand to reveal a rainbow bracelet, she would immediately feel more comfortable. Without anyone speaking a word, both a teacher and classmate became two additional people that my best friend knew would accept her.
Creating a safe space doesn’t have to be a large-scale production. We don’t all have to march on Washington or rally outside of Gasson, because frankly, political activism isn’t everyone’s forte. But, correcting someone when they say “fag” or “dyke” is relatively easy, and will take nothing away from our largely heterosexual privileged lives.
If you are accepting and kind, let everyone know. Slap those LGBTQ stickers on your laptop or water bottle. Wear the rainbow pins on your backpack. It’s easy to think we know all of our friends and peers completely, but we don’t. It’s unrealistic and naïve to assume we are all the same, even if we look and speak similarly. Someone, maybe even an extremely close friend, might spot these stickers, signs, or bracelets and feel more comfortable existing as their whole person.
As a community we have a long way to go until all students feel accepted, supported, and comfortable. These signs of solidarity, though, are baby steps to making each day easier and more inclusive for our LGBTQ friends.