Safe Spaces Have Been Misinterpreted, Doggett Says

To the Editor:

I write this to speak out against the recent ugly turn the discourse in this forum has taken. The back and forth over “sportsphobia,” Zeke going co-ed, safe spaces, identity politics, etc. has hardly been civil, the anti-Baldwin cartoon in the last Review being one recent example. Four years ago I was told enough scare stories about both Baldwin and Zeke to keep a sane person away from either. Now, as someone with friends in both Zeke and Baldwin, I want to say that these myths are dangerously misleading.
Zeke’s parties are not my cup of tea, but Zeke is hardly the Paleolithic pit of Neanderthals I was told of. It is patently not “a source of violence, rape and abuse” that one letter described it as. Nor is it the exclusive domain of whites and straights that others implied. Likewise, a man entering Baldwin is not immediately castrated (and yes, that is literally the first thing I ever heard about Baldwin). When I consider the discomfort and fear I’ve heard expressed about Zeke by women and Baldwin by men on this campus, I can only think that such feelings are a deeply unhealthy situation for Oberlin.
A perfect example was the screening of Alien/Aliens last Saturday at Baldwin, which was advertised across campus in a sincere effort to be open to all. Only one male showed up. An unfortunate parallel example is the misogynistic vandalism at Zeke in response to ResLife’s decision, which only served to vindicate Zeke’s harshest critics. “Whore” is quite simply one of those words that nobody should ever use to call another. With this incident, the actions of a few individuals seriously hurt the cause of all those who wanted to keep Zeke all-male.
Much of the recent controversy has focused on the concept of safe space, and as far as I can tell, two entirely different definitions of safe space are being used. A political one, centered on the idea of giving underprivileged groups a haven, and a more generic one that does not associate with the issue of privilege. A male safe space is anathema to the political definition, but entirely consistent with the generic one. Regardless of how you define safe space –– I’m agnostic on it myself –– I’d hope we can agree that the desire for some form of all-male housing should be fulfilled.
Many people, of both genders, either hold values that conflict with or simply do not desire co-ed housing, and ResLife should make reasonable efforts to accommodate them. By making Zeke co-ed and not replacing it with some form of all-male housing elsewhere, they have failed to do so. Further, while men do occupy a privileged position within society, society also sends plenty of conflicting messages about “how to be a guy.” In a single Obieism, guys have “issues” too. Therefore, any male who says he wants to live in all-male housing, whether he wants to call it a safe space or not, has my respect, support and understanding.
With luck all-male housing will be restored in some form in the near future, and hopefully it will not be stigmatized the way Zeke has been. Just as with Baldwin, the decision of those who want to live in a same-sex dorm should be the subject of respect, not misguided fear as it is now. As long as this is the case, then no same-sex dorm is going to be a truly safe space, by any definition.

–Thomas Doggett
College senior


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