Exactly what kind of “safety” is being safeguarded in these cases remains ambiguous, of course. Is this primarily about students’ emotional safety and mental well-being, per the typical usage in the term “safe spaces”? Or is this about safety from physical harm?
The elision here may be deliberate, particularly given that hurtful words are so often conflated with actual violence — which, to some, justifies retaliating with not just passionate counter-speech but also actual violence, as has happened on several campuses when protesters turned rough and rowdy.
Indeed, administrators are justified in fearing violence when there is an inflammatory speaker, given the disruptive tactics used by attendees at both Shapiro’s and Yiannopoulos’s events recently, among others. But somehow schools still manage to provide sufficient numbers of security officers at other potentially unruly public events. If they truly cared about zeroing out the possibility of public unsafety, they would cancel all football games, as well as inebriated graduation festivities, or really any large campus gathering. Clearly that’s not a trade-off they’re willing to make.