So this is what I am thinking about for my project. The idea of a "safe-space" has popped up a few times in our class discussions, and also in Mary Gray's presentation last week. I have been thinking a lot about the idea of safe-spaces, especially in the queer context, since the end of my senior year of college. Ryan Sorba (who has been in the news recently for protesting CPAC's decision to invite a queer group, Go-Pride, to the convention) came to speak at Smith, prompting a bunch of students to basically drown him out with shouting and booing. The conservative media had field-day writing about the angry lesbians at Smith. Unfortunately, the Smith administration responded to the situation by condemning the students for violating the college's commitment to free-speech, rather than providing a forum for discussion.
In the aftermath of Sorba's visit, and what I would call a protest/riot on the part of the students, I heard the same question asked over and over again. Why did he come here? Who would let him into this space? Shouldn't the college understand that we would react that way when he came onto our turf? On a personal level, Sorba's visit made me realize for the first time that I had considered Smith to be a safe-space, and simultaneously made me realize that I could no longer think of it that way.
For my project, I want to begin by placing the idea of "safe-spaces" within the context of feminism, lesbian separatist movements, and queer activism. I want to trouble the idea of a safe-space. Does it really exist? If so, what purpose does it serve? Safe for whom? Safe in what way? If not, why do we like to imagine safe-spaces? What happens when a safe-space is violated?
I then want to look at some queer protests. I might briefly reflect on the role played by safe/unsafe spaces in Stonewall and the riot at Compton's Cafeteria in San Francisco, but I really want to reflect more on the Sorba situation. I want to interview several students who were involved in the riot or who were on campus at the time. I think it would be good to have both queer and straight voices represented. (Do I need IRB approval for this? I think historians don't have to do it for oral histories anymore-- does anyone know?) I want to know if anyone else had the idea that Smith was a safe-space, and whether that influenced their reaction to the Sorba sitch.
I would really like to have y'alls feedback, cause I can think of several big conceptual problems with this project (most glaringly, I am clearly looking for a certain answer to my question, although leaving space for disagreement). On the other hand, I'm really excited about the chance to devote some time to this, and to have to opportunity to do a lot of thinking rather than devoting the bulk of my energy to research/citing.
Also, if any of you know about anyone who has theorized about safe-spaces in the queer/feminist context, please let me know. I am sending up flares to Reg and Kevin Murphy as well.