Female Muslim professor: ‘College is not a safe space’

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2016/02/04/female-muslim-professor-college-is-not-a-safe-space/

Shaheen Pasha is a journalism professor at University of Massachusetts Amherst. She also happens to be a female, Pakistani-American Muslim who is adamantly opposed to the notion of “safe spaces” for under-represented students on college campuses.

Writing on Medium.com in November, Pasha, 38, argued that college is not a safe space, and was never meant to be. “It is a place where debates can turn heated and ugly and the cruel realities of the world come crashing down on students, preparing them for the very real discourse they will face upon graduation.”

The term “safe space” refers to a location on campus that prohibits offensive speech and that offers a nurturing environment in which students who feel “triggered” by other people’s speech can find support.

The term has gained popularity on college campuses recently, as student activists across the country raise objections to controversial campus speakers as well as to certain works of literature in the classroom.

Pasha, who has worked as an international journalist for CNNMoney, the Dow Jones Newswires, Thomson Reuters and other news outlets, says the demands of some recent college protestors have made her wonder if she is teaching in a country that protects free speech:

“Smith College protestors…banned media from covering their event unless the journalists came out in public support of their cause…Let that sink in.”

Having worked for years as journalist before turning to teaching, Pasha is sensitive to the ways in which the media can misrepresent a story for multiple reasons:

“I traveled the globe and have seen first-hand how the same story can be shifted to fit corporate agendas and personal biases. I have seen how reporters of color can be steamrolled in a newsroom. I teach my journalism students about it in class. I warn against the dangers of it and how they can fight it. But I also recognize that the rights of the press have to be protected.”

Pasha is appreciative of student activism and engagement:

“I deeply respect and admire the convictions of the impassioned student activists on campus who want to create a better world.”

But, she says, “when that activism impedes on the rights of others and forces them to share your beliefs, well-intentioned liberalism can take on an ugly shade of authoritarianism.”

Pasha has confronted a similar streak of authoritarianism in students of her own who have come to her to complain about things they discussed in class: “A former student came to my office to demand an apology for showing an Al Jazeera report on the families of the Dimona suicide bombers in Israel because ‘terrorists do not deserve to have stories done about them that may humanize them in any way.’”

This behavior betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of journalistic ethics, Pasha says. “No journalist, trained in the ethics of the profession and with a sense of personal integrity, should agree to support any cause in order to report on it.”

Her students’ unwillingness to face stories and people who do not share their perspective or make them uncomfortable has given Pasha reason for concern:

“As a journalism instructor, I will be sending out the next generation of reporters to witness and report on the horrors of the world. If they cannot handle the stress of an uncomfortable class discussion, they will have a hard time in the profession.”

“College is the place where you have your eyes opened,” she said in an interview Thursday. “I understand we have to be sensitive… but life is trauma …That’s what the classroom is there for – to have an open environment where we have discussions that are controversial. The most important thing is awareness.”