Thursday, April 6, 2017

‘Safe Spaces’ and the Educational Benefits of Diversity

With the troubling rise in hate groups in America, Professor Vinay Harpalani's article "Safe Spaces" and the Educational Benefits of Diversity offers a timely defense of campus safe spaces in the broader framework of diversity programming in higher education.  The following is an abstract of his article, forthcoming in the Duke Journal of Constitutional Law and Public Policy.

"This Article analyzes and defends “safe spaces” on university campuses. Safe spaces are campus programs and organizations that are devoted to the needs and experiences of marginalized groups — especially students of color. The Article argues that safe spaces are vital to the educational benefits of diversity — the compelling interest upheld in Grutter v. Bollinger (2003) and Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin II (2016) to justify universities’ use of race-conscious admissions policies. Safe spaces provide valuable support mechanisms for students of color at predominantly White universities.

The Supreme Court has recognized that these students can often feel “isolated or like spokespersons for their race,” and safe spaces can help them with social and cultural adjustment. Additionally, safe spaces also provide unique educational benefits for both students of color and for White students. Contrary to popular discourse, safe spaces do not promote balkanization or racial separatism on campuses. Even safe spaces that focus on one group, such as residential programs devoted to Black heritage and experiences, are open to students of all backgrounds. Some of these spaces have very diverse student participation. Safe spaces illustrate that immersion within one group’s experience is compatible with cross-racial understanding, not antithetical to it. These spaces provide valuable opportunities for students of color to engage issues of salience within their own groups, and for White students to learn about issues that would not come up in predominantly White settings. The conversations and debates that occur between students turn safe spaces into miniature “marketplaces of ideas,” where unique cross-racial exchanges can occur. Such exchanges epitomize the educational benefits of diversity upheld in Grutter and Fisher II."

To download Professor Harpalani's article, click here.

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