The CCMPR was tense. How do you begin a conversation on how to begin a conversation? This Wednesday, a collaboration of between NoViCE and Boilerplate Magazine organized this round table discussion to gauge a general sense of what people feel about, and how they would hope to define safer spaces around campus. Members in attendance were not only from No-ViCE and Boilerplate, but ALANA and LGBTQ orgs, and any student who wanted to be a part of the conversation.
To clarify, member of No-ViCE and Arts and Culture editor of Boilerplate, Tati Esposito von Mueffling ’17 said, “The term safe spaces doesn’t just apply to a physical location. It’s not specific to venues or music venues. It’s a more recent term, where it’s gained traction.” She added, “Space also refers to identities on gender and sexuality,”
A safe space isn’t necessarily safe for everyone, then. Labeling a space as “safer” is a more honest way of describing a space that’s trying to be inclusive towards everyone. “There’s something very special about safe spaces. There’s an assumption as to what a safe space is, the conversation tends to remain static, and people tend to have an idea of what a safe space means to them, so that they [can] then sit with that idea,” Editor-in-Chief and Cofounder of Boilerplate, Lanbo Yang ’15 , explained. Adding the “r” to “safe” creates a new meaning. Zack Wilks ’17, who runs No-ViCE said, “It feels more active. We’ll do our best to make everyone feel as comfortable as possible.”
Wilks went on to say, “The idea behind it is that you can’t guarantee a safe space. The idea of this policy is to make places as safe as possible. We’ll do our best, but we’re not just going to say that it’s a safe space because that would be an exaggeration.”
The idea for this project stemmed from members of No-ViCE attending a concert at Bard in October. The venue, Wilks explained, had posters for safe spaces all around. As an org that deals primarily with music and artists, having concerts in designated safe spaces is crucial. “The kind of behavior that their poster was calling out and that most safe, or safer space, policies are calling out, are, being unaware of the space you’re taking up, getting in someone else’s personal space to the point of making them incredibly uncomfortable, or basically lack of consent in terms of physical contact.”
When it comes to being in a music venue, then, the safe space works both ways: getting into other peoples’ space in a sexually inappropriate way, or disrespecting the artist in any way. “And part of the physical aspect of it relates to moshing,” Esposito von Mueffling said. “Moshing is basically slam dancing,” Wilks explained. “It’s more common with punk music, or just anything really loud. It’s a tricky thing. Because some artists don’t like it when their audience does that because they believe, at least more times than not, that the people that are moshing aren’t really taking into consideration the people around them that don’t want to be moshing,” Wilks said. “It can be borderline violent,” Esposito von Mueffling added.
Cases such as this, everyone agreed, are all too similar to the Mug.
Following along the lines of what Bard did at their concert, these Vassar students hope to achieve the safe effect. Wilks said, “[Bard’s] Safe Spaces are essentially looking after one another, if someone’s being sketchy, call them out—that sort of thing. And we thought at least that the kind of behavior that their safe spaces poster was condemning or calling out was this sort of thing that a lot of people encounter in the Mug. So we thought that we should probably have some sort of policy here, but probably improve upon it.”
They also hope to prevent more than just physical disrespect. Esposito von Mueffling said, “Our policy should talk about not disrespecting people’s identities about sexuality, gender, race, or ability.” This extends into the classroom. Esposito von Mueffling continued, “A safe space in an academic situation could be a professor saying ‘this classroom is a safe space, any opinion of yours, any concern of yours, ask any question no matter how ignorant or offensive you think it might be.’ So the problem with that is the assumption that you might be making it safe for some people, but the questions that you’re asking may be fundamentally offensive to other people in the classroom. And then, a professor might also use it to say ‘this is a space where all identities are fully respected,’ but you can’t guarantee that: to say ‘this is a safe space’ and then barely create some kind of equality on all levels of identity.”
To initiate change, it began with simple discussion. Wilks said, “It’s why we didn’t want to go ahead and just make a policy. The talk is open for anyone who wants to come. It’s open to everybody. It’s not just the NoViCE and Boilerplate.” The roundtable discussion was also important in starting a conversation without the involvement of administration. Yang said, “I think it’s really good to have a student made, student enforced policy. If we took it to an administrative level, I’m not sure that it would have the exact weight. People worked on this, students worked on this, people who use the Mug worked on this.
Now and in the future when people want to rent out the Mug space, something will be associated with the Mug and other spaces. This will help the orgs who plan things in the Mug picture how this policy aligns or have a little how-to on there when they spread their Facebook page or something.”
Co-editor in chief of Boilerplate, Skyers-White, ’16 added, “It’s student made, so hopefully that means if new concerns come up in the future, it won’t be a fixed policy. It’s open to change, so it’ll adapt to whatever the Mug or whatever takes us off campus become.”
Yang summed up the purpose of the roundtable discussion: “I think the goal is to not silence people on campus when they express themselves, but to find a way for that person to express themselves in a way that engages other people, and engages other people respectfully.”