Some students at Northern Arizona University (NAU) in Flagstaff held a protest and a walkout on March 29 because the school president, Rita Cheng, would not create a safe space (video below).
Cheng hosted a forum on campus on March 29, notes KPNX, and was asked a question by sophomore Breanna Kramer: "How can you promote safe spaces, if you don’t take action in situations of injustice, such as, last week, when we had the preacher on campus and he was promoting hate speech against marginalized students? As well as not speaking out against racist incidents like blackface two months ago by student workers followed by no reform and no repercussions?"
Cheng's answer sparked the protest and walkout: "I’m not sure I have any support at all for safe space. I think that you as a student have to develop the skills to be successful in this world and that we need to provide you with the opportunity for discourse and debate and dialogue and academic inquiry, and I’m not sure that that is correlated with the notion of safe space as I’ve seen that."
Most of the students who walked out were members of the NAU Student Action Coalition (SAC).
Nina Wilson, one of the students who departed, said: "That’s what we’re doing and safe spaces are not about that. It’s about certain groups being targeted and nothing is being done about it."
An unidentified member of the NAU SAC added: "That’s why we get the ... gay campus [nickname] because we’re a marketing technique, but she doesn’t care about our safety."
NAU SAC called for Cheng's resignation in a statement on its Facebook page March 31: "President Cheng's answers at the forum were insufficient and if she's not ready or willing to engage in these serious conversations and more importantly work towards solutions, then we do feel her resignation is necessary.
"We want and deserve a university president who works to provide the purpose of higher education, which is to enrich the lives of many people, including students, faculty, staff and the larger flagstaff community."
KPNX asked Kimberly Ott, assistant to the president for executive communications and media relations, via email what Cheng thought about the students calling for her resignation if she does not create a safe space. Ott noted that the university is safe, but segregated spaces were a bad idea:
NAU is safe. Creating segregated spaces for different groups on our campus only [leads] to misunderstanding, distrust and [reduces] the opportunity for discussion and engagement and education around diversity.
Our classrooms and our campus is a place for engagement and respect -- a place to learn from each other. NAU is committed to an atmosphere that is conducive to teaching and learning.
Ott also said that Cheng "is and has always been willing to meet with representatives of student groups."