I didn’t even make it through my first tour of campus without hearing about “The Bubble.” The fact that we live in a bubble at Colorado College rolled off the tongue of my tour guide just as definitively as her well-rehearsed explanation of the Block Plan. To her, recognition of the bubble was as matter of fact as the location of Worner. She referenced it like there was some sort of physical structure surrounding us. Obviously, there is no physical bubble stretching over our heads, as cool as that would be, so I made the mistake of dismissing her words as either pre-programmed tour guide tripe or a reflection of her inner bias. In some sense, I didn’t really believe her, or rather I believed that this bubble existed, but that the question of degrees had to be settled. Sure there could be some sort of ideological bubble but it only existed to contrast and shelter us from the evil conservative world of Colorado Springs. The bubble in my mind was nothing more than a declaration of battle lines separating the liberal bastion of CC from our enemies that beset us on every side.
I know now that I’m not completely wrong about our bubble, but I also know my tour guide was a hell of a lot more right than I was. We may not actually live inside some futuristic glass dome, but the bubble is just as real as Worner. My tour guide’s confidence in her proclamation didn’t just come from some recognized separation of CC from the Springs community, but was rooted in the recognition of battle lines. Not the battle lines of our liberal fortress but the ones painted across campus. We all know our culture is not like the rest of the world, and in some cases, we take pride in that. Nowhere else can you go and have your ass systematically handed to you one class at a time, or escape to mountains that just wait for us like the backdrop to some absurd fairytale. We have our own special brand of “granola” and that makes the whole place just so quaint. I paint this positive picture so we don’t forget that there are some good things about our bubble, but we are also unique in other ways.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) in particular doesn’t care for some of CC’s exceptional qualities. The organization has given the college a “red light” as a speech code rating which means “at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech.” In their view, the most exceptional thing about CC is our propensity to silence speech. This would only be a minor problem except for the fact that they are certainly not alone in this recognition. All across our campus, people don’t feel comfortable expressing unpopular opinions, and everyone else is just as uncomfortable hearing those opinions. Inside our larger bubble, CC has done a fantastic job of creating a multitude of smaller bubbles. Until recently, there appeared to be a clear winner of this contest. Extremely progressive and liberal ideas dominated the space, and any deviation from that was punished through a curt social response of condemnation, labeling dissenters as racist, privileged, sexist, homophobic, or any number of non-endearing terms. The small bubbles on campus that were once used to protect and foster inclusivity were militarized.
This brings us to the present. Occupying a world where there is undoubtedly tension between the factions. A corruption of the “safe space” faction supposedly intimidates those with less popular opinions into silence. I say “supposedly” because I have many unpopular opinions, and quite frankly never shut up despite the social pressure, but I do have to acknowledge that pressure exists. The ones stifling conversations however, whether they mean to or not, are a vocal minority and not the entire campus. With the expulsion and suspension of two students on campus, the battle lines have been re-drawn, and the vocal minority is not as dominant as it once was. This brings us to a great shift, and an even bigger decision: what do we want our bubble to look like? Should the lines of free speech extend as far as they want, even if that means reaching into personal lines and at the cost of pain? Which sounds fatalistic but don’t we have an obligation to hear all viewpoints in the quest for knowledge, especially at a liberal arts school where we claim to want to be exposed to new things? Where do we draw the line?
I suggest we start drawing the lines by looking at real world. We can just pop the whole damn bubble and live our day to day lives like everyone else does, without the guarantee for safe spaces and lofty ideals. We can open up our socialist utopian commune to the harsh realities of life and allow the chaos of capitalism and jerks teach lessons the hard way. After we’ve popped the bubble and finally gotten rid of this supposed miracle stretching over our heads we do something radical, we fix things. It’s obvious that the system we have now is not working, that we don’t have conversations and we don’t have respect for each other. If I was listening close enough on that first tour I might have heard a slight tone of resentment when my tour guide mentioned the bubble, so why not get rid of it and start all over again? Why not work together to create a community where we can engage in real conversations while not feeling attacked because we have enough respect for each other not to be careless jerks in casual conversation? I know this entire thing sounds like a fairy tale and if you’re angry, reading this is probably just as satisfying as being told to ignore a sibling, but I’m not generally the guy to tell you what you want to hear. This entire thing sounds idealistic because nobody ever rose to low expectations and honestly it’s about time someone stopped being so radical and pessimistic. Right now, sure it sucks, but it will only continue to suck until we stop complaining on Yik Yak and actually go out there to do something about it. Get idealistic, start talking about what’s next, and pop the damn bubble.