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pi magazine 713 | editorial


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he issue of controversial speakers and whether they should be given platforms at universities was fiercely argued throughout 2015. Back in September, secular activist Maryam Namazie was banned from speaking at Warwick University, and at Cardiff University, a petition of more than 3,000 students tried to prevent Germaine Greer from speaking following her controversial comments on transgender people. UCL too become part of this debate, when UCLU banned former student Macer Gifford from speaking about his experiences fighting against Isis. Asad Khan, UCLU activities and events officer, justified this stance by suggesting that “an event with a person speaking about their experiences fighting in Syria could lead to others going and fighting in the conflict”. In response, Kavar Kurda, event’s organiser for the UCL Kurdish Society which hosted the event, said: “The union and Asad Khan still lack and have a disregard for freedom of speech”. This event did eventually go ahead, but its initial ban gave the impression that certain figures within the university would have preferred if it hadn’t. A group of leading academics, led by Professor Frank Furedi, have warned that universities are “killing free speech” by banning events that may cause offence. Universities are meant to be places where students’ preconceptions and assumptions are challenged. This kind of action is denying students a valuable part of their education, as it stops them from being able to discuss views which oppose their own. If controversial speakers are barred from visiting universities, certain topics of study are undermined. This was seen last year at Duke University, where undergraduate students refused to read Fun House, a graphic novel with LGBT+ themes by Alison Bechdel. Reading lists are very carefully chosen and designed to challenge those within the course. Refusing to read a certain item on the list,

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because you disagree with what it says, shows a deep seated insecurity. If the views you hold are so infallible, then there is no reason to be fearful of views which differ from your own. Perhaps the best response to the issue of censorship within universities has been seen at Brunel University. When Daily Mail columnist Katie Hopkins was invited to be on a panel debate, the union and students did not try to ban the event, but instead vacated the building en masse when she arrived. Ali Milani, president of Brunel student union, said: “It is important to note that the conversation at no point has been about banning Ms Hopkins from speaking on campus, or denying her right to speak. It is instead about saying it is distasteful and incongruous for our university.” It is important to note that not everyone left the room, though it was nearly empty, and that the opportunity arose to hear and refute the points that she made. Allowing Katie Hopkins to come to the event meant that her views and opinions could actually be challenged, instead of simply being rejected. Learning where you stand on certain issues, contentious or not, is often part of the university experience. People are allowed to have views that are not upheld by the mainstream. Suggesting that a certain figure cannot speak, or that a certain book should not be read, is arrogant and assumes that your viewpoint is the correct one. No one should go out with the intention to offend – above all, it just makes you a rather unpleasant person – and if this is the intention of the speaker, they should not be given a platform to speak. However, it is possible to be informed by an opinion you do not agree with. Just because someone disagrees with you doesn’t mean their perspective is invalid. If we see certain viewpoints as dangerous, not engaging with them only allows them to continue. There is a fear that open discussion of controversial issues is the cause of growing tensions in society, when it is actually the resolution.

Profile for Pi Media, UCLU

Pi Magazine, Issue 713 - Re:Generation  

Our third issue of 2015-16 explores our generation of millennial, and our collective identity. Why is our generation the way it is - what ex...

Pi Magazine, Issue 713 - Re:Generation  

Our third issue of 2015-16 explores our generation of millennial, and our collective identity. Why is our generation the way it is - what ex...