EUSA’s nutty censorship policies have to stop

If EUSA allow bigotry to go unchallenged, they also allow it to fester

Our university is becoming notorious for campus censorship. After banning songs, speakers, newspapers, and drinking a little bit too quickly, EUSA have now decided that we must also be protected from raised hands and head nodding.

In our latest Student Council meeting, Imogen Wilson (VPAA), had a safe space complaint lodged against her because she lifted her arms to denote disagreement. She survived the vote and was allowed to stay in the room. She then survived another complaint when she shook her head in disagreement when another person was speaking.

Imogen Wilson VPAA

Wilson has always been a defender of the safe space policy against earlier criticism, and this defence continued even after she’d been caught out in this ludicrous scenario, particularly when others had been shaking their heads at her earlier, when she had been speaking, and no complaint was registered.

Here it seems safe space was used as a tool to bully Imogen Wilson, not protect her speech as it pretends.

Censorship on British university campuses is not a modern concept. In 1382, the philosopher John Wycliffe was cast out of Oxford and declared a heretic by the university chancellor because he presented the case for an English translation of the bible. In 1811, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Thomas Jefferson Hogg were also expelled from Oxford for publishing a work called The Necessity of Atheism. In 1749, David Hume was denied positions at the universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow as his atheist views did not conform with the religious doctrine of the time.

In all of these cases, those censored were deemed to be offensive.

We all love DHT right?

But now, after two centuries of enlightenment thought – where free expression and rigorous debate have enjoyed long tenancies on British university campuses – censorship is back. Student leaders who once banned criticisms of religion for being an offence to the ecclesiastical orders, now no-platform Maryam Namazie for her talks on Islam and her experience as an ex-Muslim.

Safe spaces have got to go. University should not be a ‘safe’ space, it should be an intellectual space. We’re here to be confronted with difficult and different views, not to be coddled and safeguarded away from ‘offensive’ material.

We must not allow our feelings to damage the most precious right of the individual: the free communication of thought and opinion. Everyone gets it, and everyone can use it. It is imperative that our Student Unions are the bastions for maintaining that right. When asked what students should do when faced with bad ideas, President Obama gave some perfect advice, “Just out-argue them. Beat ‘em. Make the case as to why they’re wrong. Win over adherents. That’s how things work in a democracy.”

The British student leaders of today frequently justify their intolerance by claiming that their censorship is good as it protects minorities from offensive speech and ideas. It is ridiculous to claim that women cannot fight back against sexist jokes, that Jews cannot fight back against anti-Semitism, or that gay and transgender people have no defence in the face of vile or simply differing views.

A recent anti-Semitic tweet that EUSA have had to investigate

‘Tone policing’ is something feminists fight against – yet the very tones they would fight for the right to use are contrary to EUSA’s safe space policy.

Abortion debates, Germaine Greer, sombreros and perhaps most stunningly, Peter Tatchell, have all been targeted by no platforming or safe space polices.  In attempting to defend minorities, our student leaders have not only denied them the opportunity to fight against opposing views, but they have also stamped on the rights of the tiniest minority: the individual.

As students in the home of the Enlightenment we must fight sexism, racism and other intolerant views. By denying students the ability to invite speakers who might hold these bigoted opinions, you also deny them the opportunity to defeat them. When we are faced by backward, disgusting speech we must out-argue it and prove its flaws. If EUSA allow bigotry to go unchallenged, they also allow it to fester. Do EUSA really think these views are so powerful that they cannot be dealt with by our criticism?

I think we can do better.
The University of Edinburgh did not extend much kindness to David Hume during his time as an academic in the city. After his frequent clashes with the culturally authoritarian university figures, he would often have to beg to return to his job in the library. It is unlikely that he would receive different treatment from the student leaders of today. If invited to speak, much of Hume’s writing on social and political matters would violate the Students’ Assocation’s Safe Space policy. Many students would be offended, some students would be outraged, and David Hume would undoubtably be no-platformed by Edinburgh University Students’ Association.

The recent EUSA referendum was a change for the better

Edinburgh students must ask themselves the following questions: do I want to be coddled and patronised by my student leaders? Do I need to be told what I can and cannot hear? Is it right that I am denied the opportunity to criticise and debate some ideas I do not agree with? If they answer no, they should fight against the campus censorship laws we have today and prevent them from getting worse in the future. Safe spaces are making us fragile and stupid, let’s get back to robust debate.

There’s a simple way to act – get back involved in student politics. You don’t have to agree with me, you may hate me. But what is undeniable is that our student politics has been co-opted by a fractious group of the few people that can be bothered to put up with it. Representation is important at Edinburgh – that’s what liberation positions are there for, to ensure minority interests don’t get run ruff-shod over.

Let’s ensure that we are all represented in how we want our student life to be run: free from censorship.