On the need to feel unsafe

The Chalkening

The New York Times has an article about #TheChalkening: “Pro-Trump Chalk Messages Cause Conflicts on College Campuses” Samantha Harris, director of policy of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, is quoted as saying.


““With the Trump candidacy, this is the first time we’ve sort of seen calls for censorship of, literally, support for a candidate,” Ms. Harris said. “For a long time there’s been a sense by students that they have a right not to be uncomfortable. You do have a right not to feel unsafe. The question is: What does unsafe mean?””

I do not believe you have a right “not to feel unsafe”. You have a right “not to be unsafe”.

We cannot really determine how any other person feels. We can imagine how someone might feel, if we have a good Theory of Mind, but there is no way for anyone to know the path that every other individual took to get to the place they are emotionally at now. You can try to be sensitive, but that may or may not be enough for the other person. The threshold for outrage steadily lowers.  The students and administrators opposing the chalk messages clearly do not care how those writing those messages feel (nor especially do I), or what provoked them. I imagine it comes from the pleasure of annoying other students foremost, and supporting the candidate in question second, but I am not in the chalkers mind.

More importantly, it is the feeling of unsafety that makes you be safer, it causes you to be aware of your surroundings. We see this in traffic all the time. Drivers who feel unsafe because lanes are narrower drive more carefully, and are not any generally less unsafe than drivers in wider lanes who do not feel unsafe (this as everything depends). We should strive to make you actually safer by changing the environment, but safety depends on the individual as well as their environment.

Now there is no reason to be rude for the sake of rudeness, but rudeness is not a crime, and should be protected. Symbols like swastikas and burning crosses are clearly designed to intimidate. However one of the major US parties is on the verge of nominating a candidate with views that one year ago where considered beyond the pale. You can either confront this or not confront this. Living in a chalk-free world will just delay your response, and position you from farther behind in attempting to stop it.

If you go through college in a bubble, you will imagine the world is a far safer place than it really is. If you are not exposed to racism, sexism, prejudice, and the like except in books you might actually imagine it doesn’t exist, or not much, or just used to, or it can’t happen here. And then you get a rude awakening when someone like the current Republican front-runner comes along.

2 thoughts on “On the need to feel unsafe

  1. Regarding the comparison to transportation, though “feeling unsafe” causes drivers to exercise more caution, it causes pedestrians and cyclists to avoid a place altogether.
    This seems to me more similar to the situation in question.


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