James Hatch is a former a Navy SEAL who has dealt with PTSD for nearly half of his 52 years of life. So it was kind of a big deal when he was accepted to Yale University this past fall as a college freshman. While the Fox News crowd may have been eagerly anticipating the meaty clickbait they could mine from the potential cultural clash of this Real American and those whiney radical college protestors, Hatch beat them to the punch by publishing his own reflection on his first semester. Spoiler alert: it's probably one of the most deeply humanistic things I've read in a long time.
As the younger students started to express their thoughts, the young woman (truly a unicorn of a human) used the word "safe space" and it hit me forcefully. I come from a place where when I hear that term, I roll my eyes into the back of my vacant skull and laugh from the bottom of my potbelly. This time, I was literally in shock. It hit me that what I thought a "safe space" meant, was not accurate. This young woman, the one who used the phrase, isn't scared of anything. She is a life-force of goodness and strength. She doesn't need anyone to provide a comfortable environment for her. What she meant by "safe space" was that she was happy to be in an environment where difficult subjects can be discussed openly, without the risk of disrespect or harsh judgment. This works both ways. What I mean is, this young woman was comfortable, in this university setting, wrestling with things like the Aristotelian idea of some humans being born as "natural slaves." She was quite comfortable in that space. The question was, how comfortable was the 52-year-old white guy in that discussion? Did it make me uncomfortable? Yes. I'm grateful for the discomfort. Thinking about things I don't understand or have, for most of my life, written off, is a good thing.
The essay has already gone a bit viral, prompting an NPR interview with Hatch. But if you haven't read it, do yourself the favor.
My Semester With The Snowflakes [James Hatch / Medium]
Image of an ROTC commissioning ceremony at Yale, via Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Adrian Cadiz / US Department of Defense