KCLSU’s Safe Space Policy is great for debate and is necessary for freedom of speech

Hearing all sides means having safe spaces

In the past few days, KCLSU's Safe Space Policy has been making the headlines. Ever since Safe Space Marshals showed up at a talk by Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, the media has been abuzz. The Safe Space Policy, safe spaces and the Safe Space Marshals have been roundly mocked.

While the atmosphere at university appears to be "open-minded", we've found in the past years that the definition of being "open-minded" is shrinking, and so being there for people's safety is becoming more of a priority than ever.

Having read the recent articles against such formalities, we believe it's time for one that shows the Safe Space Policy and the employment of Marshals in a good light. So, here's why they're absolutely necessary if we really want freedom of speech.

Safe spaces make sure students can attend events without fear

The Safe Space Policy is meant to protect students from being intimidated or harassed at such events. This means who feel they are marginalised within society can attend events they disagree with, and even challenge speakers at those events, without being harmed by or being forced to explain why a speaker or attendee's words are harmful to them. This isn't about being offended. People experience bigotry in their everyday lives, which takes a mental and physical toll on them. We can't expect them to debate a speaker when they aren't sure it will be safe or healthy to do so, and we shouldn't be wasting time we could use for productive debate by repeatedly forcing them to explain why something is hurtful. Keeping spaces safe means marginalised students get to oppose.

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Highlighted: what the KCLSU Safe Space Policy protects students from.

Safe spaces prevent open bigotry while allowing debate

It's (hopefully) clear to most that openly expressing harmful bigotry such as racism and antisemitism is unacceptable. KCLSU's Safe Space Policy strikes a compromise between preventing anyone who might have bigoted views from speaking (which is the job of the NUS's limited No Platform policy) and giving airtime to open bigotry. Anyone who doesn't appear to be an out-and-out bigot can speak and debate, but if they say something unexpected our Safe Space Marshals are there to stop it before it gets out of hand.

Safe Space Policy helps keep things safe for debate

By reassuring students their campus isn't hosting bigotry, and preventing it from happening during student events, the Safe Space Policy and Safe Space Marshals keep tensions between different groups of students from escalating into violence. Controversial speakers and views thus get aired without the kind of violent resistance we've seen on American campuses. With the exception of a couple of incidents in the past two academic years, the Safe Space Policy has helped keep King's safe for debate by making sure that students don't need to take matters into their own hands.

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Finally, we must be conscious of how "free speech" isn't actually free speech, but rather speech that escapes suppression by the various forms of bigotry that exist in society. Some people are heard less than others because they don't feel safe speaking up, or aren't listened to. The Safe Space Policy, and the use of Safe Space Marshals, ensures that everyone feels equally comfortable speaking up as long as they don't say anything harmful.

All in all, if we really want to hear all sides, to have reasoned and productive debate and to protect freedom of speech, we need our Safe Spaces and we need the people who protect them.

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King's College London