International students designate organization suite as ‘safe space’

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The Council of International Students and Organizations (COISO) was the first organization in the student organization suite area of the Shalala Student Center to make a poster designating itself a “safe space” this past week. The sign was created in response to a discussion that erupted on social media after UM College Republicans (CR) posted a “Safe Spaces are for Children” sign on the door of the office they share with Young and College Democrats.

Avisha Gopalakrishna, a member of COISO, designed the poster, which incorporates a pledge from the University of Colorado Boulder about the acceptance of all people.

Gopalakrishna said she didn’t agree with the sign but understood the reasoning behind it after reading the statement CR President Chris Dalton gave to The Miami Hurricane.

In the statement, Dalton wrote that the sign would remain on the door of the political suite because “The movement for safe spaces on college campuses has been hijacked and transformed from an earnest effort to protect victims of abuse into a closed-minded crusade to shut out all ideological dissent.”

“I didn’t agree with them but I understood their intentions behind it. They are right, there should be a freedom of discussion and the only way to represent the other side of the idea is that our office is a safe space,” Gopalakrishna said. “We respect them for their freedom of speech and we hope that it applies to us as well.”

Aalekhya Reddam, a member of COISO, first thought of the idea to declare the office as a safe space to emulate the university’s values of acceptance that she had become accustomed to.

“When I first saw the College Republicans sign I was disappointed,” Reddam said. “I’ve felt so welcomed here at UM and this was the first time I felt like a group was segregating people.”

Because the COISO office is directly across from the political student suite, Gopalakrishna said she and the other members of the culturally-rich organization wanted to make a statement.

“This was an idea COISO felt strongly about because we cherish our office space and wanted to show that anyone who comes in here will be respected,” Gopalakrishna said.

When Reddam asked Gopalakrishna to design the poster, it was not meant to be “passive aggressive” toward CR but to show that COISO is a place for anyone.

“The basis of our organization is diversity and inclusion,” Reddam said. “The sign they put started a conversation … we wouldn’t be true to ourselves if we didn’t clarify that we were a safe space.”

The template of the poster was sent to other student organizations. SpectrUM, the university’s LGBT student organization, also put up a sign on its suite door.

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