Flourishing away from home

What feels like a “safe space” to one person can feel stifling or even “unsafe” to another. A sex-positive feminist may want to decorate her dorm door with a poster from a provocative art exhibition. An evangelical Christian across the hall might not feel “at home” seeing graphic images each morning upon leaving her dorm room. Yet forbid the feminist artist from decorating her door as she sees fit and she will find the space she inhabits seems less like home. The whole standard is untenable.

And I worry that some progressive college students are missing this inherent untenability by unconsciously proceeding as if there is a right to feel at home in college, but only for those with a “correct” or “enlightened” view of what home should be.

My correspondent has the best of intentions. But I fear that the best that could come of his framework is a place where students who share his ideology and temperament are very comfortable… and everyone else is not. Insofar as some aspects of home, like an environment free of racism, ought to be lodestars, it is because of their independent value, not because they are home-like.

But among my 30-something peers, I have so many friends and acquaintances, across the full diversity of identity groups, who regard the collegiate periods that were least like home––the semester abroad, the challenging roommate, the residence hall where it was forbidden to speak their native language, and yes, the late-night dorm debates with folks whose viewpoints they found offensive––as the times that most contributed to their education, their growth, and their later flourishing.

–Conor Friedersdorf, A College Is a Community but Cannot be a Home

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