I go back and forth on this one, emotionally. On the one hand, I share your derisive sentiment: spaces safe from what, exactly? On the other hand, like you, I get the value of that Woolfian room, even as I agree that space can’t readily be manufactured. It has to arise by grassroots means. There’s little or no revolutionary power in an institutional safe space — it’s safe, so few risks are taken. So what’s the objective?
I sometimes think it’s not safe spaces the so-called first world needs, so much as it needs a cultural shift about what risk means. The risk of hurt feelings or social judgment or having an argument is simply not the same as the risk of, say, losing a job, which is not the same as the risk of suffering violence or death. To the privileged resident of the developed world, arguing ideology in the ivory tower, those more serious risks, I guess, must seem inconceivable. And maybe that’s a good thing — maybe that’s what we should want for everyone. But for me personally, it’s hard to feel comfortable with the notion of safe spaces that essentially become echo chambers. It’s hard for me to imagine that the echo chamber is the end game “safe space” we want.