When someone requests that students not smoke in a particular location, comparing such a request to a “safe space,” as a columnist did last week, is absurd. Not only is such a request against smoking perfectly reasonable, but the dismissal of the request as a “safe space” ironically resembles the “safe space” argument more than the request itself.
Surely the columnist would not deny that citizens have the right to protest public nuisances. Laws against breach of the peace have been part of English and American common law for centuries, often augmented by laws against offenses such as public drunkenness and excessive noise. Smoking is legal on campus and probably will remain so, but legality does not constitute immunity from mild criticism.
There are no rules preventing a mariachi band from rehearsing in A.J.’s Café every weeknight, but one could justifiably complain about the nuisance resulting from that. Is that “preferential realism,” as the columnist called it? No, that is simply common decency, as is a request that students not smoke in a heavily traveled and confined space.
The columnist’s description of “preferential realism” includes several examples of denying unpleasant facts, such as election results or the final judgment. Apparently this means that having students smoke outside the library is a certain, unchangeable fact that can be equated to theology or history, and those who ask that smokers not indulge in that particular location are trying to “conform reality to their preferences.”
According to this logic, I can never ask someone to move who is unintentionally blocking a hallway, since reality is telling me that they must stay there indefinitely. Such a conclusion is of course ludicrous.
By referring to the previous column as a “safe space,” the columnist is partaking in the same logic that he is decrying. The reality is that some students find smoke in that location to be a nuisance and have made a reasonable request, but the columnist refuses to entertain this idea because his preferences don’t agree.
With his reasoning, since it is comfortable for smokers to smoke outside the library, we ought not to disturb them. Ironically, dismissing the argument because it impedes on others’ comfort and because it makes people uncomfortable is precisely what the columnist accuses others of doing, namely, “trying to conform reality to their preferences.” Surely there are better responses to the original column than comparing it to a “safe space.”
Tom Ryskamp is a junior studying accounting and music.