Safe Spaces: Where Free Press Dies

It is unbelievable how freedom of the press, a right our Founding Fathers so cherished, has eroded in a country that prides itself on its liberties. It is unbelievable how the right to cover an open event, which freedom of the press entails, cannot be practiced on college campuses.

Last week, while trying to cover an open event discussing the role of the Asian-American and Pacific Islander (API) community in the Black Lives Matter movement, hosted by Pomona College’s Asian American Resource Center (AARC)—which considers itself a “safe space”—I uncovered the sad state of free press at Pomona College. I was hoping to objectively cover this event, to bring out the little-known viewpoints of the API community on the Black Lives Matter movement. This hope was greeted by resentment and hostility, and I left with one message: Freedom of the press does not belong, and is not welcome, in safe spaces.

The process of stifling free press begins right as a journalist walks through the doors into the safe space. While I was initially welcomed when I asked if I could record the event and take notes, further questioning revealed I was trying to cover the event for a student-run publication. Even then, the event facilitators extended their warm welcome, until it was brought to light that this student-run publication was The Claremont Independent, a conservative-leaning paper. No more warm welcome and no more recording allowed, but I was still permitted to take notes.

The death blow of free press in this “safe space” struck later, when I started to take notes on my laptop just as the event began. As I finished typing my second line of notes, I was informed that note-taking would only be permitted if it was approved by all participants of the event—if even one participant objected to my note-taking, I would not be allowed to take notes. Unsurprisingly, after a blindfold vote, at least one person voted against note-taking, and I was told to stop taking notes. I was told that taking notes made participants uncomfortable, and that I should respect the AARC as a “safe space.” In a subsequent meeting with the director of AARC, I was told the AARC functions primarily as a “safe space” where participants should feel comfortable, and that people’s fears and concerns of an Independent journalist taking notes should be respected in this safe space, adding that the AARC does not want its views advertised to an audience the Independent could reach.

Despite making it clear that speech at this event should make all participants comfortable, attacks on capitalism and “capitalist violence,” the “heteropatriarchal” society, and traits of the “model minority” (like working hard and obeying the law) were left unchecked, without the slightest consideration of whether I, with differing political views, would feel comfortable listening to endless assaults to values which I hold dear. Yet with free press dead, who dares challenge this hypocrisy?

In the college campus “safe space,” with no freedom of the press, there is no check on the lack of ideological diversity, no way for “safe spaces” to promote their messages through an objective third party, and no way for the public to know about and effectively help pressure and protest against the hypocritical “inclusiveness” of safe spaces.

Free press is the restraint that keeps “safe spaces” from becoming “hate spaces” that do not fear whether the stifling of differing views, the silencing of people from different parts of the political spectrum, and the venting and promotion of anger towards certain groups of people, will ever be exposed to and critiqued by the public, where there is no fear whether the public will pressure them to change. Because, without the restraint of free press on safe spaces, the public will simply never know.

Unless safe spaces are made accessible to the free press, journalists need to abide by a new rule concerning reporting in safe spaces: Don’t try. Yet I remain confident, and hopeful, that through the efforts of those who act to uphold our Founding Fathers’ values on college campuses, the rule for journalists will be “Dare to try. Dare to uphold and defend the diversity of opinion, freedom of expression, and freedom of the press.”

12 thoughts on “Safe Spaces: Where Free Press Dies”

  1. next time, just turn on the audio recorder on your phone –

    what would have happened if you kept taking notes? Physcial violence? A campus police officer enforcing this order could have a complaint filed against them for violating the First amendment – with the corollary damages issues –

  2. Hi Will,

    I appreciate your perspective on this. I’m sorry that you felt attacked and uncomfortable at this event. Maybe I can offer some input as someone who has been on both sides (at least politically) of this.

    One of your statements, referring to you no longer being received warmly because of your involvement with “The Claremont Independent, a conservative-leaning paper,” I think needs some more unpacking. I do believe that the fact that it is a conservative-leaning paper probably does hold some influence in this situation. But the bigger thing is that the Independent right now doesn’t really have credibility and trust with the students, unfortunately. In the past, the Independent has targeted individual students, publishing photographs with their names without consent (not arguing the legality here – more the ethical implications. Facebook is public, of course). These students’ names have been broadcast over the entire country in some cases, and they’ve received some incredibly hateful messages from readers. Do you see why distrust may exist, and why the presence of the CI may make it seem unsafe?

    A second point I want to make: Yes, ideological diversity is vital to any kind of progress that is to be made in a holistic manner. We need more of this in Claremont! It is wrong to silence people from different political ends of the spectrum. Yet, both sides do this. If we want to move forward, we need to try and understand each other.

    So this brings me to my point – political affiliation is not an acceptable defining characteristic of anyone (I’m very against the bipartisan split we have in the US). In fact, I think you’ll probably find that people in the activist movements (speaking generally here, I wasn’t at this event so I don’t know what was said) are usually not talking about liberal vs. conservative. The ideas they present may lean more left based on how the issues stack up in American politics, but they are seeing wrong in the world and standing up for it. This is more than just affiliation with a political party, but based on experiences. Keep in mind also that most of the frustration toward things like the “heteropatriarchy” and capitalism are based on lifelong negative experiences.

    Again, I’m sorry that this was such a negative experience for you. However, as someone who seems to want to know more about their discussions, I’d suggest thinking about why it is that you hold your values dear, and why it may be different for this group. This is the type of ideological internal dialogue that we need to have.

    DISCLAIMER: I don’t necessarily support or condemn capitalism – like any economic system, it has its strengths and flaws. It gives at least some degree of freedom to people (though this freedom varies greatly based on what kind of access you have), though we can see how enormous levels of poverty can also exist in a capitalistic society. I have thoughts on other systems as well, but not looking for a comment debate on this issue. However, I’d be very interested in talking about it. Feel free to facebook message me, my name on facebook is as it is here.

    1. Interesting how people start out with something like “Free speech is the law of the land…” or “Of course we support freedom of the press…”, then launch into the inevitable “…BUT!”.
      And all under the cloak of the first amendment while doing it.
      That universal phase transition can’t get here fast enough.

    2. No, the attitudes of this group toward the “heteropatriarchy” and capitalism are not based on personal experiences. They are based on having been indoctrinated. Once indoctrinated, one can see the evil of the patriarchy behind every bad thing that happens.

      1. How do you know they are not based on personal experiences? Are you them, or have you at least put yourself in their shoes? Now even if they get that attitudes from books, what gives you the capability to discern that as indoctrination rather than just knowledge? That attitude of condescension and superiority from a white male is exactly what those students are fighting against.

      2. John, I am sorry, but this is a very arrogant and narrow comment. I stated in another comment, but I know many of these people. It is actually part of their personal experience. And what sort of indoctrination would you be referring to? An education at one of the highest ranked institutions in the country?

        I agree with what I think you’re getting at, which is that one can’t place external blame for everything. But to say that they don’t have personal experience seems close to saying that they must have the same story as you do.

    3. Colin, let me be polite. You’re a doofus. I – – as a big boy who’s not afraid of his shadow – – could care less if someone who is hostile to what I believe sits in on a meeting I attend. Blog about it. Write about it. Tell all your friends! I will pat that person on the back. That’s what big boys do – – at least in a free society. Enjoy it while you have it. Pacifiers not included.

      1. Brent, I’m glad that you are able to do this. I actually never said anything about keeping out people that are hostile to what you believe, so I’m confused as to where you’re getting that?

        I mentioned in my initial post that my main concern is that people have received hateful and violent messages due to their names being broadcast across the nation (usually in an out of context manner). I can fully understand why people would feel literally unsafe with the CI around, when there is a very real possibility that their words would be twisted and they would then receive this hate.

        These are actually people that I know. I am defensive of my friends, and while I can’t understand the fear and anxiety that comes from receiving this kind of hate, I can certainly empathize and be upset that people are receiving it – and not want it to happen to others.

  3. I didn’t know the CI was a journal! It seemed more like a compilation of unhappy blog posts on and negative reactions to students at your campus who are engaging in a specific political discourse and agenda. CI definitely needs to polish their journalism before asking to be considered one. Maybe that’s what had people confused at the event you attended, Will?

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