Northern Arizona University students demand safe spaces and president’s resignation

Northern Arizona University (NAU) President Rita Cheng is under fire by the Student Action Coalition (SAC) for refusing to endorse safe spaces on campus and telling students they must confront new ideas.

The students, primarily from the NAU SAC, staged a protest, walkouts and are calling for Cheng’s resignation after a tense Q&A forum hosted by the university president last Wednesday in which she attacked safe space ideology and told students they only serve to coddle students and stunt their development.

According to Arizona’s 12News channel, the incident came to a head with a question from sophomore Breanna Kramer, asking, “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?”

“Blackface” is when students paint their faces with black paint and is a frequent occurrence in the bleachers of NAU “blackout” football games where players wear all black on the field.

Cheng responded, “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.”

Unsatisfied with Cheng’s response, a few dozen students, mainly associated with SAC, walked out and staged a protest. They accused Cheng of only opening her mind to differences “when it paid.”

NAU senior Nina Wilson said, “Safe spaces are not about that. It’s about certain groups being targeted and nothing is being done about it.”

Another NAU SAC organizer said, “That’s why we get the like gay campus because we’re a marketing technique, but she doesn’t care about our safety.”

On Friday, the coalition issued a statement to the news:

The NAU Student Action Coalition is composed of many student groups and various individuals who are being directly impacted by a range of issues highlighted at the forum on Wednesday. The NAU community invests a lot of time, money, and energy in this experience and, because of failed leadership, we are not getting a return on our investment. 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 and would want a university President who works to provide the purpose of higher education, which is to enrich the lives of many people, students, faculty, staff and the larger Flagstaff community. We were guaranteed access, quality and excellence in our higher education student experiences and far too many students are experiencing the exact opposite.

The university stated, President Cheng is and has always been willing to meet with representatives of student groups. There were hundreds of people at Wednesday’s forum – faculty staff and students.  The few dozen who left, missed the opportunity to hear the questions of others, including several similar to theirs, and the answers that followed.

Aside: I don’t have to ask how these students got this way because the blame lies on the system of education and parents. I thought of saying “society as a whole,” but that’s not true because I take no responsibility for this idiocy. If you can’t handle ideas that differ from your own, see a shrink. There’s absolutely no place for nurseries and blankies on college campuses. Kudos to Cheng. This country needs more educators with her veracity and unwavering commitment to educate and not coddle.

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