The Graduate Students’ Association (GSA) is appalled to learn of reports that on September 7, 2014, multiple orientation facilitators were seen wearing tank tops with the text “Fuck Safe Space” on the front, and the back reading “Or Me.” The message conveyed on these shirts is completely unacceptable.

‘Safe space’ initiatives are intended to create environments free from harassment, discrimination and violence. In particular, these initiatives aim to ensure everyone can participate in campus life regardless of their race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, political affiliation or belief, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, marital status, family status and disability.

Regardless of the intent, the statement on these shirts serves to attack and demean the ongoing efforts by students, faculty, and staff at Carleton to create safe spaces free from violence, oppression and discrimination. Most disturbingly, this incident comes only days after a Carleton student was arrested and charged with three counts of sexual assault on campus.

To frame this as an isolated and “off-campus” incident is to fail to recognize the systemic problems these shirts serve to perpetuate. In fact, this is not the first time some students have mocked Safe Space policies. The solution cannot be simply to penalize those students and remove these shirts from campus, but rather to actively combat a campus culture that allows people to think these shirts–and other actions that create unsafe spaces–are appropriate.

The GSA has been working hard to promote and strengthen inclusive, safe spaces on campus. We have been present throughout orientation weeks, reaching out to both graduate and undergraduate students with equity campaigns such as Challenge Homophobia and Transphobia, Challenge Racism, and other forms of oppression. The GSA also has two Sexual Assault Outreach Coordinators who actively work on the No Means No campaign, addressing gender-based violence and rape culture while also promoting healthy sexuality.

The GSA is thankful for the support it has received from campus labour unions as well as multiple University departments, such as Campus Safety and Equity Services. It is regrettable that the Carleton Undergraduate Students’ Association (CUSA) has not supported these campaigns, and has in fact actively attempted to undermine them by banning No Means No and Challenge Homophobia and Transphobia materials from all spaces on campus operated by CUSA.

The GSA will continue this work in collaboration with other partners on campus, and we invite the Carleton University administration and CUSA to not only take a strong stand and clearly denounce this behaviour, but also to actively work to make this campus a safer space for all students and workers.