When the NUS decided to ban a debate on multiculturalism on the Durham campus, eyebrows were raised. It was the opening act for the university’s ‘no platform’ policy which seeks to protect students from speakers who may ‘threaten the safe environment student unions provide for their members’.
It seems fascistic that a partially elected union can dictate a speakers’ right to voice personal opinion on campus. I say ‘partially’ because I certainly didn’t vote for anyone in the NUS, nor did any of my friends. So why do they wield so much power?
Even if you did vote for them, there are obvious reasons why our government doesn’t curtail free-speech based on ideology or belief. So why should a student union pander to students who advocate such restrictive policies on campus?
University campuses are heralded as the place for the exchange of ideas and battling of beliefs. Taking away my right to invite a speaker who may be on the ‘no platform’ blacklist of the NUS because they don’t align with their views is undemocratic. Pairing up with ‘Unite Against Fascism’ the NUS cancelled the talk. Ironically, filtering what information passes through the minds of students.
Who defines what a ‘safe space’ is? Who decides what views are ‘safe’ enough to be debated?
The Durham Debating Society president was quoted saying ‘I am confident that the debate would have been intelligent and responsive and an opportunity for our membership to expose and challenge any offensive views’, highlighting there was belief that the debate would have been productive and beneficial for those involved. This example does not stand alone. Julie Bindel, a co-founder of the group ‘Justice for Women’, was banned from talking on the Manchester campus. She was banned because her transphobic views meant she may have breached their safe space policy.
This begs the obvious question: Who defines what a ‘safe space’ is? Who decides what views are ‘safe’ enough to be debated?
On their website, the NUS claim to ‘defend and extend student rights’. How much freedom and rights do you take away from people when you tell them they cannot express their views? Far more than the freedom you supposedly empower them with when you shelter them from that which they may find offensive.
Every social media website has an in-built algorithm which seeks to confirm your views, but for all the criticism this receives, university campuses and the NUS are performing this very service for you in the real world! I don’t want Twitter filtering views of people I follow but don’t retweet. Equally, I don’t want the NUS selecting who comes onto my campus based on how a select committee feels about their views.
Herein lies the crux of this argument: offensive, backwards, racist, xenophobic, anti-liberal arguments need to come to the forefront of debate so that they can be denounced through intelligent reasoning and arguments.
Safe spaces are the enemy of democracy. If you do not like a view, stand up and fight it, the world is a scary place, let’s not hide away while frightening ideologies manifest themselves outside of our echo-chambers.