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GUEST COLUMN: Losing and finding safe spaces

By: Jennifer Schubert-Akin
June 8, 2017 Updated: June 9, 2017 at 7:45 am
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This spring, I finished my 23rd consecutive Boston Marathon with fractures in both legs that I had sustained during the race. How did I push through the pain to finish? Through the inspiration of Rebekah Gregory, who came back to run this race after her left leg was blown off during the Boston Marathon bombings of 2013.

Rebekah learned the hard way that there are no safe spaces, even when you think you are at your safest.

While Rebecca lost her leg, she protected something far more precious than a limb: her five-year-old son Noah, who was leaning on it at the time.

The physical scars left by the bombing were compounded by the even deeper emotional scars, writes Rebecca in her new book "Taking My Life Back". The ensuing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and emotional trauma were exacerbated by a lifetime of anxiety and depression stemming from her abusive and absent father.

Yet as is so often the case with tragedy, the incident proved to be the catharsis Rebecca needed to bring herself closer to God, family, and inner peace. The bomb didn't kill her. It made her stronger.

Rebekah's story of overcoming real-world obstacles is contrasted by a generation cowering from make-believe ones.

This culture of coddling - what George Mason University Professor Tyler Cowen calls "The Complacent Class" - has reached its apex on the country's college campuses, where safe spaces, trigger warnings, and free speech zones shelter the next generation from the challenges they will inevitably face.

According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, around one in six of the country's top universities have free speech zones. The irony of these zones that restrict speech while ostensibly promoting it is evidently lost on faculty leadership.

Across the country, students - often with tacit or explicit approval from faculty - are preventing speech that challenges their cocoon.

At the University of California, Berkeley, officials canceled planned speeches by conservative commentators Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter in recent months because of threats of violence. Earlier this year, students at Middlebury College sent a professor to the emergency room with a concussion as she was escorting conservative scholar Charles Murray.

A professor at Cal State University called on students to respond to micro-aggressions (perceived verbal slights) with macro-aggressions (physical violence).

But as Rebekah's story demonstrates, there will be no trigger warnings when you need them most and there is a major difference between micro- and macro-aggressions.

Students can make a difference. Here in Colorado a student helped inspire legislation to eliminate free speech zones on campus after he was sent to one for exercising his First Amendment rights.

In an attempt to inspire more Coloradans and people from across the country with this message of personal responsibility and perseverance, The Steamboat Institute is featuring Rebekah as a speaker at our 9th Annual Freedom Conference in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Along with other speakers, Rebekah will explain how our nation's first principles apply today and can act as an antidote to the current culture of victimization.

Few - if any - who hear this message will have to deal with getting their leg blown off. But all will have to deal at some point with a major life challenge. The sooner we recognize there are no safe spaces except for those that we create within, the easier it will be to survive the next blast.

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Jennifer Schubert-Akin is the CEO of The Steamboat Institute.

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