Daniel Porter – King’s College London Atheist, Humanist and Secular Society
The biggest threat to freedom of speech at King’s College lies not within the Student Union, as seems to be the case across the rest of the country, but within the student body itself. There is a common misconception that as a proponent of freedom of speech, I am in fact, a proponent of hate speech, and that my goal is to allow people to spew venom, so that their ideas can gain a substantial following. As many times as I’ve said it before, I shall say it again: freedom of speech gives us all the right to provide the antidote to these hateful ideas, publically holding them accountable for their incoherency. We are on the same side!
The suppression of free speech on campus, and of the individual’s right to free enquiry, can be seen once again when we, at the KCL Atheist, Humanist and Secular Society, attempted to hold the society’s first event in well over a year; a debate titled “Is the West responsible for Islamic extremism?” Within a week, the backlash that ensued had labelled the society as an “Islamic smear campaign”, with such aggressive commentary that participants no longer felt safe taking part. With many students admitting that they would be attending in the hope of preventing the debate from taking place, one panellist was even forced to step down after suffering from panic attacks.
The most unfortunate and depressing aspect of the US vs THEM narrative permeating through universities today, is that it fails to grasp the fact that most people actually have the same goal in mind: to create a world in which no one is discriminated against for who they are.
However, what needs to be realised, is that silencing people with views contrary to this utopian society, is not a legitimate means of creating one. By silencing all dialogue we consider to be offensive, we are not challenging the ideas themselves, but merely causing them to be romanticised. The ideas remain, and all that happens now is that they are forced into arenas where they can no longer be challenged. This serves only to convince more people of their coherency, than would have been the case had they been publically critiqued, and duly undermined. It is the position of myself and fellow contributors that is epitomised by the #Right2Debate campaign: a longer-term solution. By granting opposing ideas the chance to be vocalised now, we can work together to dispel their power, ensuring that they are no longer a threat in the future.
Universities ought to be institutions of academic meditation and intellectual enlightenment. However, none of this can be the case if people believe they have the right to silence views they do not agree with. We do not have the right to tell anyone else what they can, or cannot say; and more importantly, we do not have the right to tell anyone what they can, or cannot hear.
Benjamin David and Damian Lewis – Warwick University Atheist, Secular and Humanist Society
We have witnessed a deeply concerning increase in attempts by the National Union of Students (NUS) to silence dissenters through its increasingly wielded No-Platform Policy as of late, and we have finally reached a calamity. Escalating attempts are being made to no-platform external speakers at our universities by the NUS and scores of the 600+ Student-Unions that affiliation with it.
The NUS’ No-Platforming policy was initially intended to proscribe those fascists and racists speakers from having a platform upon which they could profess their divisive narratives. However, we have witnessed an increasing encroachment by the NUS and Student Unions on our universities to broadly stifle dissent. Various feminists, gay-rights campaigners, anti-fascists and anti-Islamists have been unpardonably indicted with ‘hate-incitement’ and subjected to disproportionate and unconscionable no-platforming sanctions, and sanctioned without sufficient evidence.
No-Platforming policies infringe upon the rich pluralism that universities were once revered for. The regressive effects of no-platforming advocacy are starting to contravene the rights of students to hear views that they might deem to ‘unpalatable’, and, consequently, preventing students from having the opportunity to debate in a civil way.
Therefore, through the #Right2Debate campaign, we call on the NUS to revise their No-Platforming policy to integrate the rights of students to hear any view that does not infringe upon the law, and, what is more, for the NUS to integrate the rights of students to have the right to debate with speakers who profess views that could be deemed ‘disagreeable’.
Warwick achieved some attention last year, indeed was in the spotlight of this issue. It was rather fascinating, being a member and supporter of Warwick Atheists, Secularists and Humanists (WASH), but largely spectator to the affair, to watch the SU’s debacle. My initial reaction was a mixture of shock and disgust, if not surprise. It would have been wrong to block anyone from speaking based purely on the vague notion of potential offence. It was outright laughable, in the worst possible way, when a woman who knows theocracy first hand, and has spent her career campaigning for secularism and feminism, was barred from speaking.
Our President at WASH, Benjamin David, proceeded to rally support against the decision. Shock and outrage turned into enthusiasm and encouragement. This of course eventually resulted in the overturning of the barring. The enthusiasm and encouragement of the campaign blossomed, as it does, into that grin-inducing feeling of moral vindication. Maryam Namazie came. Maryam spoke, and gave everyone food for thought. My experience as a spectator to it was an encouraging lesson. It is a good feeling when Richard Dawkins, Salman Rushdie, and Brian Cox all stand in your corner. The Student Union tried to escape culpability, however this merely further revealed the unfortunate truth, which is that SUs are all too eager to ban people they actually know remarkably little about. This is becoming worse.
After this affair, I was treated to the disappointment of not being able to debate at a highly anticipated motion at Kings College London, on the origins of Islamic extremism, due to concerns over safety, and the drop out of other speakers, who were no longer comfortable, so toxic was the atmosphere. This reflected another lesson: this culture of victimhood, this self-censoring sense of the potentiality of offence as anathema, is not incubated within a sort of closed SU hive. It is within us all as students and individuals.
As the Social Media admin for WASH, I gain great pleasure in trying to ensure that as many people as possible hear about what we consider to be pressing issues of our time. We want to intellectually challenge people, and we want to be intellectually challenged. This culture of censorship, this form of ‘quiet despotism’ that Tocqueville and Mill feared, can and will be defeated. That was the thought that flashed across my mind when Maryam was debarred. That is the lesson in all of this. A society where one does not risk the beliefs they hold dear being questioned and challenged, where the values which pierce the depth of your very being cannot be offended, is one not worthy of the name for those who cherish the beautiful, powerful, and yes, dangerous nature of free thought.
Haydar Zaki – Quilliam University Societies Outreach Officer
When joining Quilliam I felt compelled to take our message of universal human rights and have it amplified throughout universities and campuses. The consequential events that had followed from this project had shocked me. I realised all too quickly that an intellectual mafia has begun to gain credence on campus, one in which aims to dictate what are legitimate topics of discussion, and one in which aims to silence topics deemed too controversial on the premise of a “safe space.”
Most worryingly is that human rights speakers such as Sheikh Usama Hassan were branded as racists and vile when we came to do an event at Exeter university, whilst other speakers who advocate for FGM practices and theocratic rule are applauded as intellectual heroes. Some influential students had called for the speaker to be “no-platformed” at the university – sadly this call wasn’t reserved for the latter speaker.
This ignorance is not what is most concerning, but it is the practices employed to silence dialogue that are. From protests that spill into violence and intimidation, to advocating no platform policies for Islamic theologians on the basis of “islamophobia.” This movement has become the biggest obstacle to free speech, leaps and bounds more so than the bogeyman they term the “chilling” PREVENT strategy.
From my personal experiences I witnessed two cases of SU’s trying to silence free speech movements. The first from UCL rejecting a Quilliam society application on the basis of irrelevancy and inadequacy (as the SU stated that they already do a stellar job of promoting free speech and debate.) From a university that has affiliated a Yonce’ (Beyonce’) appreciation society – sounds great but making a point – and banned Kurdish fighter Macer Gilford only a few weeks after, this seemed particularly spiteful. The second was at SOAS when student welfare officers stopped an event featuring human rights speaker Mona El-Tahawy with only a few weeks to go because they couldn’t find another speaker to contest her in time. It was stated on the SOAS website (and now taken down) that this was because the student welfare’s workload was too much. Knowing that this same principle of contested platforms was not given to speakers from controversially extreme organisations, all the more makes this case particularly suspect and makes one wonder whether it was deliberately marred.
Safe spaces were once used for the inalienable traits an individual has, such as their gender, race and sexual identification. It has now expanded in such a way to safe guard against the exchanging of ideas, and therefore the free critique of ideas is now in jeopardy.
Let us allow for universities to be bastions of freedom, and expand the safety of students by having divisive and extreme ideas and narratives challenged. Let us show the intellectual mafia existing on campus the hypocrisy of their unwritten creed of “although we believe peace will come through dialogue, we will not have dialogue with those we disagree with.” Let’s safe space the #Right2Debate.
Asher Fainman – Goldsmiths Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society
In the relatively short time since I established our ASH society, I have encountered a number of obstacles and flagrant attempts to suppress our right to freely express our views. From the outset, when I met to discuss the societies approval with the SU I was ‘encouraged’ to not do anything that might in the most minimal sense cause offense to any religious group. The SU officer, referencing the LSE Jesus and Mohammed cartoon row suggested not doing anything which might provoke similar hostility. For some of the first few speaker events that we held, we had an issue with about 40% of our posters being taken down from around campus within a day or two of putting them up. We wondered whether this was a concerted effort by someone, but of course could not prove this was the case, yet no other posters were taken down besides ours on the same billboards.
After inviting the wonderful ex-Muslim human rights campaigner Maryam Namazie to speak about, amongst other things, free speech, I sent an open invitation to the Islamic society (ISoc) to join the event. I had done so because I had not wanted the event to be an echo chamber of similar non-religious opinions and felt they could provide a religious perspective. The ISoc president responded with a thinly veiled threat insisting that we call off the event the night before claiming Maryam’s presence would violate the ‘safe space’ policy . We went ahead with the event and were interrupted by a minority of male ISoc members and friends who made a great effort to continuously interrupt Maryam and intimidate her and other attendees. This culminated with one of the men turning off the projector she was using and another allegedly making a death threat to an attendee. The SU responded by conducting an investigation into the event and proceeded to not inform me of any developments unless I actively prompted them; they were far more concerned with taking down the video published of the event, than addressing our concerns regarding the abuse of the safe space policy and only had a conversation with me about this two months later.
I have since launched the #Right2Debate campaign with Quilliam and others to address some of the structural issues regarding the plethora of incidents of suppression or attempted suppression of free expression on campus.
Harvir Dhillon – Oxford Brookes Quilliam Society
Freedom of speech on campus has been attacked repeatedly. From Germaine Greer to sombreros, censorious students have taken advantage of a zeitgeist that favours feelings over debate. I, myself, have even been prevented from attending a talk by Marine Le Pen, at the Oxford Union, because protestors had entered the Union, over the entrance gate, and forced security to stop allowing students into the debating chamber. I disagree with Le Pen on a lot but if I can’t even engage with her ideas because some are so offended by her, then my liberty to hear a conflicting idea is deprived. This is a sad state of affairs.
However, the threat to freedom of speech on campus isn’t just limited to protestors disrupting events or indeed talk of “safe spaces” and being “triggered”. It also extends to the often-times intrusive way that PREVENT measures are implemented. Somebody whose views I find abhorrent in Hamza Tzortzis came to Oxford Brookes University to deliver a lecture but had his entire event recorded by the SU with the video not even being published for others to watch. The reason for recording him was to ensure that he didn’t say anything too controversial. Hamza’s views are morally reprehensible but free speech should be a universal principle. Should SUs now record all events in case anything naughty is said? This, I fear, sets a dangerous precedent.
Upholding the principle of freedom of speech is one of the reasons why I started a Quilliam society at my university. We promote initiatives such as #Right2Debate and invite speakers to discuss hot topics, particularly around secularism and freedom of speech. In order for a new zeitgeist to emerge, these ideas have to be promoted on campus. The indispensable role of the free marketplace of ideas should be firmly rooted in campus culture. This is precisely what makes a university a university.
Keziah Conroy – UCL Union’s Atheist, Secular and Humanist Society
In 2012 UCLU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist society published an image on Facebook of Jesus and Mo, a weekly, online comic strip which the author describes as “religious satire.” Some students were offended and complained, which led UCLU to ask that the image be taken down. After a petition for freedom of expression was signed by over 4000 people, including Richard Dawkins, UCLU acknowledged that they could not call on the society to withdraw the image. Across the world, people are imprisoned and put to death for violating blasphemy laws. Such restrictions clearly have no place in a UK university.
Last year, UCLU Kurdish Society organised a seminar to discuss the Kurdish militia and their fight against DAESH. One of the invited speakers was ex-UCL student Macer Gifford, who fought with the Kurds in Syria. The student union decided to No Platform him, concerned that “in every conflict there are two sides, and at UCLU we want to avoid taking sides in conflicts”. Clearly they missed the irony in that statement, since UCLU routinely takes sides in their Union Policy, the most recent example condemning airstrikes in Syria, and in the past they’ve held votes on the situation in Gaza. In the end, UCLU backed down after taking advice from the police. Kavar Kurda, UCLU Kurdish Society president, said “it was a lengthy saga which shouldn’t have been a problem in the first place. I’m glad the outcome was positive and I hope UCLU won’t make this a recurring pattern”.
Encouragingly, someone had the good sense to submit a freedom of speech motion, which UCLU must uphold until 2017.
University of Manchester Free Speech and Secular Society
The Free Speech and Secular Society of the University of Manchester has people from all sorts of backgrounds: from revolutionary socialists to conservatives, from Christians to Buddhists and Atheists, from gays to BME people, from intersectional feminists to those who are anti-feminists. While we are proud to be as diverse as we can be, because it makes their job easier and helps to get themselves listened to by their targeted crowd, our opponents constantly prefer to accuse us of being “white, straight, men”. In our society, although we are all individually very different from each other, we meet at one point: our desire to defend free speech and secularism no matter what your views or faith are. We believe that university should be a platform for intellectual discourse so that people can weigh their views against others’ and they can learn from each other.
Our first event as a society was a panel discussion called “Sharia law in the UK: women’s rights, free speech and universities”. Although there had been no problems with the SU to get the speakers approved, there was a major protest outside the event and the protesters constantly tried to interrupt it. Although we think that there is absolutely nothing wrong with protesting per se, their reason was that we did not bring someone from the other view to defend their position. However, this was a panel discussion rather than a debate and we did not have any legal (in the UK and in the SU) obligation to include a representative of all views that were relevant to the context. During the discussion, students did not let the speakers finish their sentences and shouted all the time. Interestingly, there were a few people who actually agreed with the protesters but who still wanted to thank us for at least providing them with an opportunity to challenge the speakers.
Following the Charlie Hebdo attacks, we wanted to display a copy of the survivors edition of the magazine on our stall at the Refreshers Fair, yet we were banned from doing so because ‘it could potentially offend someone’. Our solution was to prepare a folded leaflet containing a warning about its content and inside was the cover of the Charlie Hebdo magazine showing the prophet Mohammad. Just a few months later, our website was hacked. When we got the website back, through our contact form we saw that we received a message saying, “please stop mocking Muslims or otherwise you will feel remorse does not work on remorse”. The IP address belonged to someone in Saudi Arabia.
Our last event was the most controversial one which got national attention and prompted a new debate. It was a panel discussion called ‘From Liberation to Censorship: Does modern feminism have a problem with free speech?’ Our planned speakers were Milo Yiannopoulos and Julie Bindel. Initially, only Julie Bindel was banned but following reactions, the Students Union also banned Milo Yiannopoulos because they found out about similar controversial things he had said in the past. This proved one thing: they were not really examining the speakers’ views in depth when deciding whether to give them a platform, but rather, they banned the “popular” ones that they knew to be against them. In the end the event had to be independently hosted by self-funded students and also included an LGBT rights advocate and feminist Jane Fae as a speaker.
Our society’s efforts are routinely being curtailed by the Students’ Union due to their fears that our events may provoke offence and cause people to become upset, however, we maintain that each individual reserves the right to decide which events they would like to attend. The point of university is to be exposed to different ideas and be able to challenge views you disagree with on reason and evidence. Receiving a well-rounded education is not possible without these skills, and we despair that the students’ unions around the country are fostering an environment that is solely “safe” as opposing to conducive to one’s intellectual development.
Daniel Gross – UCL – JSOC
On March 8th, the University College London Union (UCLU) council passed the motion enacting Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). The council- comprising of 21 representatives- voted 14-4 in favour despite the protestations of students who were present- on account of the voting process and the motion itself.
A proposed amendment to the motion that would defer the vote to the General Assembly- where all students are eligible to vote- was rejected by the council. The council dismissed the dissenting charge that the BDS vote was too monumental to fall within their remit, leaving pro-Israel students like myself feeling alienated due to our opinions.
This controversial action comes amidst last year’s finding that two Sabbatical officers – both of whom voted on this matter- were charged with voter fraud. One of them even had votes deducted after last year’s election.
A student, wishing to remain anonymous for having previously been smeared by association said “this has done nothing but alienate and exclude people from a union they already feel to be unrepresentative of them.” This example of anonymity represents why #Right2Debate has been launched. People should not feel harassed for holding different opinions.
#Right2Debate is necessary for the empowerment of students, protection of speech and facilitating debate of all issues with every perspective. This would be particularly important at UCL, considering we effectively have speech referees who no-platform anti-Isil fighters like Macer Gifford but embrace radical extremists like Moazzam Begg of CAGE.
The #Right2Debate campaign seeks to remove the PC culture of “safe spaces”. At UCL, a spokesman of Muslim Engagement and Development (MEND) declared that criticism of Islam was tantamount to anti-Muslim hatred. #Right2Debate seeks to remove any chilling obstacles that stand in the way of free and open debate- even if it means taking on controversial subjects. Humans have rights but beliefs do not. We must support #Right2Debate.
Connor Naylor – London School of Economics Union Free Speech Society
Free Speech at LSE was never something I really worried about last year, like most students I was thoroughly apolitical on the issue even as I was intensely political in almost all others. The question of who has the right to air their beliefs, and who does not, and who has the authority to decide who is who, didn’t really come to the fore of my focus till I read an article, describing how David Cameron had blacklisted four universities for hosting ‘extremist speakers’. I wrote a blog post condemning the idea that the government of the day has any right to decide who is and is not extremist, who’s voice is and is not appropriate for the ‘delicate ears of students’ to be subjected to. I found myself deeply patronised by the idea that I needed to be protected from certain ideas, preferring the opportunity to openly challenge them, tear them down, and exercise my rational faculties.
Soon after this I became one of the founding members, and then the External Outreach Officer, of the LSESU Free Speech Society, a group established to challenge the very same cultural paternalism and censorship on university campuses, specifically at LSE. We found that the attitude and policies of certain groups in the university towards institutions and ideas that they found distasteful was worryingly censorious and stifling of the open, rigorous academic debate for which our university was founded, and is famed. I wanted to stand for a different interpretation of welfare: that the best way to attack an idea is not to no-platform its proponents, but to invite these individuals and groups into our schools and our unions, to put them on a box next to alternative viewpoints, to have a discourse, and to allow students to use their brains in deciding for themselves who is right, and who is wrong.
What we are doing now is politicising the student body around this issue, firing up the debate, welcoming support and opposition. We’re starting to talk about this issue, finally. Some people on campus, however, disagree with the need for our existence as a society though, and soon I will be debating a motion in the Union titled ‘Should the LSESU ban the Free Speech Society?’ The very fact that this motion has been proposed, in my mind, is a breath-taking testament to why we, and organisations like us, are very much in need in today’s university life.
Jafar – University College London Quilliam Society (Pending)
The positions of power held by student officers and activists are usually opportunities for self-promotion, which is not negative in and of itself. However, the cynical way in which organised hysteria is used for self-promotion is poisoning, not just the freedom of the unpopular to speak, but our right to hear them.
The creation of echo chambers invariably breeds bad ideas. Opposition is always necessary to mediate discussion, particularly in discussion of strongly held ideas. An environment which quacks the assumptions of one group back to itself repeatedly, creates students with an undue level of confidence in their ideas. Without an opposition, untruth is never corrected, assumptions never challenged, self-righteousness never humbled. It’s this unchallenged self-righteousness, together with the interest of self-promotion, which has created a race to be the most offended or outraged. How else can we explain the accusing of Peter Tatchell, life-long civil rights campaigner, as “racist and transphobic” by Fran Cowling, NUS LGBT Officer?
This form of censorship extended itself even when I was attempting to demonstrate the absurdity of such a growing movement. A university event had caused an outcry by some students who demanded the panel was not diverse enough to discuss the topics at hand. In the comments section I replied stating sarcastically “the opinions of the speakers are irrelevant unless they are a gay transgender women of colour.” This comment then received a reply from the host who stated that I was not to enter the event.
As the ridiculousness of this attitude comes to its inevitable conclusion, we have to remind ourselves of the importance of the #Right2Debate. Only this can lead us to a more reasonable University space. This is the line which up-coming Quilliam Societies will provide and campaign for, making the hostility with which they have been met all the more disappointing, albeit unsurprising.
Sophie – University College London Quilliam Society (Pending)
University is based on the principle of learning, challenging and exploring. This is only possible if we are exposed to ideas with which we disagree; to change or add nuance to our own views, or to understand why exactly it is that we disagree. Therefore, to ban someone who comes to discuss fighting the Islamic State on the grounds that it would be “dangerous” and might encourage others to follow in their path seems counter-intuitive. But this is exactly what the UCL Student Union did at the end of last year (although the decision was thankfully reversed). The argument that keeping us ignorant keeps us safer does little to convince me.
It is for these reasons that the emergence of Quilliam Societies in universities is so exciting; it is the opportunity to discuss topics that demand more attention and to invite speakers who challenge and can be challenged. Listening to a discussion that makes you want to ask a question is far more worthwhile than a talk that has you nodding in agreement all the way through.
Unfortunately, the UCL Student Union rejected the recent application for a Quilliam Society, claiming it was too similar to the Debate Society and risked trying to take over the role of the Student Union. The society would indeed have encouraged further debate and would have fought for legal extremist speakers to be welcomed, and to be challenged, where otherwise they might not have been. To me, however, these are positives and reasons to embrace such a society rather than turn it down. In the current climate, this movement needs support; to defend the #Right2Debate and to tackle issues such as extremism and radicalisation, rather than shy away from them. We need lively debate and engagement, rather than bubble-wrapping and exclusion.
Ross Paton – Aberystwyth University Quilliam Society
When you prevent someone with supposedly bigoted views from speaking, it should be obvious that you are doing nothing to change their mind. Far from it, you are actually preventing their mind from meeting the very thing which is most likely to change it. Discussion. Without access to discussion, bad ideas will fester.
When you silence one person, you are often silencing two. If the original speaker cannot be heard then you deprive the right of others to hear and respond to their words. Within the context of silencing abhorrent views, this means that the argumentative weapons against bigotry increasingly become blunt. Without practice to flex these argumentative muscles, our arguments will become lax. We need the cretinous views of the flat earth society to constantly remind us why the earth is round. If we allow our most precious arguments to become stale then we allow bigots the perfect intellectual climate to espouse their views.
There are only two ways of solving problems between people. One is dialogue and the other is violence. If the discussion of sensitive ideas is off the table, then the only remaining avenue which remains open to solve the conflict is violence. Just take a second to think about the consequences of closing the dialogue door in the context of debates about immigration and minority issues. Think long and hard about this; for the sleep of reason will only bring forth one thing. Monsters.
Albion Shamolli – New College of the Humanities Quilliam Society
We all funambulate when we defend free speech. On one hand, we understand the importance of unflinchingly holding on to this right; denying it in a special circumstance dilutes it to something we legislate rather than something intrinsic to all. We look back to cases where this right was denied (Socrates, Galileo, Darwin etc.) and we feel very critical.
On the other hand, the impulse to defend sensibilities and push away unwelcome views is, to an extent, a valid one. Diversity requires such an impulse, and, on paper, a ‘safe space’ seems like a good idea; people of all identities are entitled to a tolerant environment.
Can a set of beliefs create an identity? If so, such an identity cannot be granted a similar protection, for that subverts an education – no belief is above scrutiny. How do we separate identities formed on beliefs from identities formed on sexuality, race, and so on? Not well. Most political lines are arbitrary and making them the backbone of a defence is a bad idea.
Thus, we should defend free speech conceptually, as Quilliam does. Universalising an absence of free speech undoubtedly causes more social strife than universalising a presence. Students, more so than anyone else, have to learn to take offence – they have signed up to an institution that quite legitimately depends on giving it. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but it’s one we have swallowed through generations of self-reflection.
Student (left anonymous) from University of Leeds
The balance between protecting the right of students’ and academics’ freedom of speech and a safe space is never going to be an easy one to find, but I believe a fundamental line should be drawn at the incitement of violence and hatred. Even then, there does need to be room for manoeuvre. A vigil at Leeds university glorifying and whitewashing a Palestinian terrorist who murdered an Israeli citizen at the bus stop is clearly unacceptable, but less clear-cut cases should have the opportunity to be challenged and contested. If LGBTQ+ activists in Cardiff took such umbrage at Germaine Greer’s comments on transsexual women really being men, then they should have risen to the challenge of contesting her views rather than trying to remove her SU platform.
Change won’t happen overnight, but the establishing of clear guidelines is as good a place as any to start. While extremists cannot be barred from campuses, we should certainly be establishing a framework where they can effectively be challenged.
Sarah Schneider – The University of Exeter, Student Action for Refugees
There is a problem on our campuses, of a culture of suppressing of freedoms in support of certain marginalized groups that seek to benefit from the reinterpretation of safe spaces. Effectively this undermines not only the purpose of safe spaces, but leads to questions of its necessity – it is therefore similarly in the interest of marginalized groups to support a clearer definition of the policy, as well as to directly challenge censorship like narratives.
Attempting to establish an Exeter University Quilliam society was retrospectively what brought my attention to this problem. The affiliation process faced opposition groups who attempted to no-platform every event we hosted (along with any society hosting Quilliam speakers, citing their presence “would make certain minorities feel uncomfortable”), questioned the necessity of the society, then exposed committee members to threats on social media by possible terrorist sympathizers. It was this opposition, this vilification we faced that in fact reinforced a need for the society.
No-platforming does still give the speaker attention, in national media on the subject of being barred, but taking away their right to speak isn’t the point. We’re free to speak in this country, yet what’s being encroached upon is our freedom to listen – we’re being prohibited from organizing events that give controversial speakers a platform to speak, and the university campus a platform to listen, to question, to raise their concerns, to challenge opinion. Barring a speaker doesn’t limit their right to speak; it takes away our freedom to listen.
University of Leicester (Student left anonymous)
Although there are certain ideas which shouldn’t be tolerated at universities, these should be limited to factors which are biological or out of our control, such as race, sex and sexuality. They certainly shouldn’t include political and religious beliefs – all of which we are born without and are free to change in liberal societies. We would never have gotten as far as a civilisation if we had decided not to respect the idea of debate and the scrutiny of ideas.
It’s truly a shame that today such a freedom is being stripped from countless students under the guise of protecting the rights for some not to be offended. Something which offends me, but I’m happy to discuss.
Given that those who at universities who possess the power to no-platform activist are a few, it’s now more important than ever for student communities to unite and promote freedom of speech.