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College students call for Arizona school president to resign because she rejects safe spaces

Northern Arizona University students call on their school president to resign because she rejects the idea of "safe spaces." (Image source: KPNX-TV screen cap)

Students at Northern Arizona University are calling on their school president to resign because she refuses to implement or endorse "safe spaces" on the NAU campus.

According to KPNX-TV, during a recent Q&A forum hosted by NAU President Rita Cheng, a sophomore student asked Cheng how she will promote "safe spaces" on the NAU campus. Cheng told the student that she cannot support safe spaces because they don't allow students to develop skills they need to be successful outside of the academic setting.

Cheng said:

As a university professor, 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.

Cheng's response resulted in action by some students. According to KPNX, the NAU Student Action Coalition last week organized a protest and walkout in response to Cheng's remarks and demanded that she resign.

"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 toward 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," the NAU student coalition said in a statement, according to KPNX.

"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," the statement said. "We were guaranteed access, quality and excellence in our higher education student experiences and far too many students are experiencing the exact opposite."

In response, Cheng's office told KPNX that she is more than happy to meet with any students to address their concerns but pushed back and definitively said that NAU is a safe-space campus.

"Creating segregated spaces for different groups on our campus only to misunderstanding, distrust and the opportunity for discussion and engagement and education around diversity," Cheng's office said. "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."

NAU has experienced quite a bit of pushback in the social justice department lately. In addition to students angry over the lack of safe spaces, one NAU student was recently docked by her English professor for using the word "mankind" in an essay. According to that professor, students need to use "gender neutral" language that doesn't "oppress" women.

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