Criticism of Columbus State University’s Safe Space initiative, and its subsequent shuttering, launched the university into national news and prompted state lawmaker Earl Ehrhart to call many college diversity programs “utter bigotry.”
About halfway through the spring 2017 semester, CSU distributed fliers to professors and offices. The fliers could be hung outside doors to indicate that the room was “a safe space” where students could talk about anything that was concerning them.
“It was a project that was created to provide an opportunity to come and talk about whatever was going on,” said Greg Hudgison, director of University Relations for CSU. “The counseling center wanted to advise the students that we are here to look out for them.”
But the phrase “safe space” quickly became mired in political baggage. Some colleges and universities have been criticized for offering “safe spaces” that insulate students from opposing viewpoints.
That was not the point at all, Hudgison said.
“It wasn’t specifically political,” he said. “There were no rules, there were no carved out spaces.”
Hudgison says the administration realized the wording was ill-named “as soon as (the fliers) were distributed.” The fliers have since been pulled and a new initiative will be developed by the university with a more appropriate theme, Hudgison said.
“The idea is obviously important to us, but naming it and how it was communicated was changed. We did not want it to be mixed in with a political agenda.”
The saga was picked up by the conservative news website The College Fix, and then picked up again by Fox News, where it was tagged “Disgrace on Campus.”
State representative Earl Erhart, R-Powder Springs, chairman of the higher education appropriations committee, called the program “ill-named” in an email to John Lester, associate vice president for university and government relations.
But he said in the email that he was especially concerned with projects that purport to promote diversity on campus. He said the terms diversity and inclusion in the campus context “have no bearing on the actual dictionary definition. They are words to hide the utter bigotry and non-inclusiveness of the academics who use them.”
Ehrhart told the Ledger-Enquirer that he did not intend to single out CSU specifically with his remarks.
“They probably do a better job than most. They acknowledge that there are differing views and they want to provide equal resources,” he said.
“I think the university did right by going on and changing what they were talking about. Anybody can be a counselor for anyone who is going through a difficult time. Imagine if you provided counseling to a young Christian individual … a lot of these leftists on campus would rather you provide counseling to a terrorist than a young Christian. What Columbus has done is say this is inclusive now for everyone,” he said.
“That’s the problem I have with these safe spaces, they’re full of people who are so weak, they can’t have their ideas challenged.”
When asked whether there was a difference between initiatives that seek to shield students from opposing viewpoints and initiatives that seek to help historically disadvantaged groups, like minorities or LGBT students, Ehrhart said that the key was making sure nobody gets special accommodations of any sort.
“I think you move forward by treating everyone equally going forward. I’m not a fan of reparation theory.”
Ehrhart says that he plans to research how much money is being spent on diversity programs and services in state schools.
“I think diversity is good, but not the way most colleges define it or implement it. If you have a special vice president dedicated to LGBT issues, you better have one dedicated to the Young Democrats, the Young Republicans, and others. If you are treating one group better than others, you can’t do that with tax money.”
Scott Berson: 706-571-8578, @ScottBersonLE
In other recent Columbus State news: