Theresa May has criticised the concept of “safe spaces” in universities, for the purpose of protecting oppressed groups from offensive speech.
The prime minister said the concept was “quite extraordinary.”
Safe spaces have been criticised for shutting down robust debate in universities and for spreading across entire institutions, instead of just individual spaces within them.
Supporters say they are necessary to stamp out abusive behaviour such as racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia on campuses.
Ms May made clear her opposition to safe spaces in prime minister’s questions on Wednesday 14 September, when pressed for her views by Victoria Atkins, a Conservative MP.
“We want our universities not just to be places of learning but places where there is open debate. Which is challenged and people can get involved in that,” the prime minister replied.
“I think everybody is finding this concept of safe spaces quite extraordinary, frankly. We want to see that innovation of thought taking place in our universities.”
Commenting on the situation in St Andrews, Association Equal Opportunities Officer Robert Aston said, “The issue of Safe Spaces has been very controversial for mostly unfounded reasons.
“From its foundations as a means for promoting safe dialogue for specific minority issues (initially LGBT+) – it has been latched upon and taken as indicative of a supposedly overprotected and overly politically correct millennial culture which apparently runs the university life.
“The message being: people our age are not prepared for the real world, because of having these platforms for discussion.
“The University experience, by its very nature, facilitates the discussion of opposing and thought-provoking ideas.
“The notion that somehow providing a space where people, who often can feel vulnerable and insecure about their identity, are able to discuss such feelings with certainty they will be welcomed to discuss such issues – can somehow be claimed to be representative of a university culture of anti-questioning and naivety is laughable – and completely against the principles that that University of St Andrews stands for.”