Nondiscrimination rules tend to expand with time, with more and more categories added so that an increasing number of characteristics become “protected.” Indeed, Hastings College of the Law has now famously rejected the whole idea of specifying protected categories and ostensibly declared every status or belief equally protected — and hence “discrimination” on any basis equally wrong.
But I had thought that “Safe Zones” were relatively static. Many schools have adopted a “safe zone” to designate faculty members and other places where some students were supposed to be able to go to feel protected. In my experience, these “safe zones” were always limited to lesbian, gay, and bisexual students.
Well, Penn State Erie’s Behrend College has decided to break the mold. It’s “Safe Zone Behrend” … well, I’ll just let the school speak for itself:
“Unlike more visible underrepresented groups on college campuses, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, questioning students, atheists, vegetarians, etc., cannot be easily identified.”
Hence, the school hopes that students, faculty, and staff will attend a “Safe Zone workshop where you would receive a sticker to be placed on your door, window or another location. The sticker identifies your location as a ‘safe zone’–safe from hatred, prejudice, and homophobia.”
Evidently, the school believes that atheists and vegetarians (?!) are in need of a safe zone, but Christians and others of faith — and those who enjoy a steak once in a while — are unworthy of or do not need protecting. Were there specific threats to atheist and non-meat-eating students at Penn State Behrend that prompted this? Were Christian, Jewish, or bacon eating students behind these acts of bias – rendering them unworthy of similar protection within the “Safe Zone?” My bet is that PSU Behrend is simply exposing here the thought process at many universities. Programs like this — like nondiscrimination rules, speech codes, etc. — are primarily employed to “protect” only some classes of students, and on today’s campus that is rarely Christian or conservative students. When is the last time you’ve seen a university speech code applied to prohibit anti-Christian speech? Viewed from that perspective, the extension of “Safe Zone” protection to include atheists and vegetarians is natural and the omission of any mention of pro-abortion students becomes glaring.
Even so, the given justification for this set of safe zone protected characteristics is puzzling. Is it really more difficult to identify atheists and vegetarians (and LGBT students) than Christians and carnivores? Would that it were so that Christian students on campus so stand out from the crowd that anyone could identify them in a lineup. And even if PSU Behrend were right about the invisibility of these students, wouldn’t their anonymity actually make it LESS likely that they would be subject to hostility on the basis of those characteristics? One could almost get the feeling that this isn’t really about “protecting” any endangered class of students at all.