Recently during a mild squabble on a listserve for science policy professionals someone wrote in that what we needed was a "safe space" for people to speak about climate science, policy and politics.
I had not been involved in the conversation at that point, but the comment struck a nerve on two fronts.
First, it assumed those not participating the conversation must feel scared or threatened.
It was a weird assumption because it overlooked many other reasons one might not participate such as mine: I didn't want to dignify the comment with an answer. I found the originating comments of the discussion shallow, fruitless, and not worth commenting on. To me, it looked like a critical thought dead end.
So, I was mildly offended that by exercising what I thought to be decency- not every comment needs my commentary on what I think of it- I (and others) were considered fearful. This touched an associated nerve. I'm tired of being figuratively victimized. I think it is done out of concern for the current wave of feminism but, it robs me of agency. The assumption that I need a hero to designate a safe space so I can share my thoughts and feelings was annoying and insulting.
Second, it belittles the foundational intentions of a "safe space."
My earliest memory of safe spaces are of firehouses willing to accept infants without judgement from forlorn mothers. The move intended to prevent mothers who couldn't care for their children from abandoning them in dumpsters and the like- which was indeed occurring. The law saved the lives of infants while working to protect the dignity of women. If only we could manage more laws supporting such ends.
From there, I remember the idea of a safe space being adopted by the LGBTQ community providing individuals a place to go free from harassment. There are also safe spaces for abused and battered women and children. I imagine methadone clinics and AA meetings are also types of safe spaces. That is to say, safe spaces provide people to receive help when people are in their deepest state of need for compassion.
Thus, the suggestion that the intellectual elite need a "safe space" to talk shop and discuss politics was beyond infuriating. To me it signified just how far out of touch some academics can be from real world issues and publics they believe themselves to serve. I find it unnerving the lengths to which some in the profession (some scientists being a prime example) go to frame themselves as victims of abuse (i.e. politics) and neglect (i.e. funding and salary decisions). It's selfish and woefully out of touch.