University of Wisconsin Vice Chancellor for Financial Affairs Laurent Heller, who arrived in Madison from Berkeley, California in June, has asked the Engagement, Inclusion and Diversity Council attached to his office to find an alternative to the term “safe spaces,” apparently because the term makes some white people feel unwelcome.

Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration Laurent Heller
Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration Laurent Heller

We’ve received feedback from some majority employees that they interpret the term ‘safe spaces’ to imply that an event or resource is not intended for them. Such a misunderstanding could side-track our efforts,” Heller said in a statement emailed to Madison365.

According to publicly available meeting agendas, the EID Council has discussed alternate language for “safe spaces” at its last three meetings, but most campus officials contacted by Madison365 had no familiarity with the effort. 

The term “safe spaces” will be replaced with “sifting and winnowing,” a phrase that comes from an 1894 Board of Regents report on academic freedom, Heller said.

Whatever may be the limitations which trammel inquiry elsewhere we believe the great state University of Wisconsin should ever encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth can be found,” the report reads in part.

“This time-honored term is well-understood by our campus community and is consistent with UW-Madison’s deep commitment to the Wisconsin Idea,” Heller said in his statement.

The idea of “safe spaces” has become controversial in some circles, with some arguing that the very idea segregates people by race, stifles discourse and curtails academic freedom. Others argue that safe spaces exist as places and moments where people can feel open to speaking frankly and learning.

Several campus community leaders declined to comment or did not respond to requests for comment. This story will be updated if there is any reaction from the campus community.