Levy: ‘Safe Space’ policy was never requested

Ryerson president Sheldon Levy says there hasn’t been an outcry for a specific safe space policy on campus. He says that’s likely because the discrimination and harassment prevention policy in the student code of non-academic conduct protects the right to a safe space.

After online response to a Ryersonian article published on March 13, many are questioning Ryerson’s policy on the matter.

The article was about two journalism students who were asked to leave a safe space event.

Levy says that the need for  a safe space policy has never been expressed.

“Most often you listen to the community and you take advice from what you hear,” says Levy, “but that has never come up.”

But what does  “safe space” refer to exactly? Below we answer seven key questions.

The RSU funds many student groups that employ safe spaces. Emily Joveski / Ryersonian Staff

The RSU funds many student groups that employ safe spaces. Emily Joveski / Ryersonian Staff

What is safe space?

There is no agreed upon definition for safe spaces.

The website Geek Feminism defines safe space as “an area or forum where either a marginalised group are not supposed to face standard mainstream stereotypes and marginalisation, or in which a shared political or social viewpoint is required to participate in the space.”

Rajean Hoilett, president of the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) says that safe spaces are necessary because they allow  people to come together and share their experiences.


What is the history of safe spaces?

Author Moira Rachel Kenney writes that the concept of safe space emerged during the women’s movement in the late twentieth story.  But according to The Guardian, the term can be traced back to U.S. protests against military recruiters in the 1970s.


Is safe space the same as positive space?

Positive Space Ryerson is a group of students, faculty and staff who work together to create safe and inclusive work, study and living spaces for all members of the school’s community.

“The idea of safe space doesn’t have to exclude people,” says Laurie Stewart from Positive Space Ryerson.  “It’s not about creating a segregated space for a particular group. It’s that all spaces should be inclusive and welcoming for everyone.”


What policies do Ryerson and the RSU have in terms of safe space?

RSU president Rajean Hoilett says Ryerson itself doesn’t have any policies on safe spaces.  But neither does the RSU. The RSU’s guidelines are not written down, but Hoilett says that in the case of the RSC, it should be clear who the group was intended for.

“The fact that this space was advertised for racialized students should paint a picture of who should be at the event and have access to that space,” he says.

Sheldon Levy says that Ryerson doesn’t have a standalone safe space policy because it hasn’t come up before.

He says the concept is embedded in other policies, such as the student code of non-academic conduct, as well as the workplace violence policy.

The RSU has a “safer space policy,” an equity statement which is read at the beginning of all their meetings.

Hoilett says the RSU prefers to use the language of “safer” spaces because it’s difficult to create a place that’s entirely safe for everybody.


How to participate in them?

Many organizations funded by the RSU, like the Racialised Students’ Collective, RyePride,  the Centre for Women and Trans People and the Trans Collective, indicate that they are dedicated to target groups. Hoilett says that generally these groups are exclusive, but they do hold meetings for the general public.

But a problem could arise if, for example, a group were to exclude someone because of differing political views.

Riana Colbert, communications director at the Ontario Civil Liberties Association, says her opinion is that, in this case communication and transparency is a must.

Colbert says she sees no reason why groups shouldn’t have safe spaces, but the challenge lies in “balancing spaces that are defined as safe by their constituents’ desires while respecting and supporting the rights and freedoms of non-constituents whether they are groups or individuals.”


How do other campuses handle safe spaces?

Carleton University’s policy states that “participants have a respect for people of any sexual and gender orientations and want to see a community that has safe spaces for all people regardless of these identities.”  Carleton also uses stickers to mark safe spaces.

The University of Alberta has the Safe Spaces Initiative which is built on the premise that the school as a whole should be a safe place.  The school says that “sexual and gender minority individuals on campus should feel free to express themselves without fear of judgment or criticism.”


How to report on them?

Ryerson’s school of journalism lacks specific policies on covering safe spaces.

The school offers some guidelines, including one that says the “determined pursuit of a story is part of journalism, but insensitivity and reckless disregard for privacy destroy trust. Exercise good judgment.”

It specifically mentions privacy concerns related to the daycare on campus, the Student Counselling Centre or the Student Financial Assistance office.

Hoilett recommends that student journalists wishing to speak to members of these private student groups contact them for interviews rather than showing up at meetings.

“We don’t let people report from these spaces because of the nature of the space,” says Hoilett.

With files from Nitish Bissonauth

Click play below to hear The Ryersonian’s full interview with Sheldon Levy on the subject of safe spaces on campus.

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