Reece Parker: Safety should come before speakers

SPEAKERS: Leeds University students union has a policy of no-platforming.
SPEAKERS: Leeds University students union has a policy of no-platforming.
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Student news, often contained on campus or otherwise in columns such as this, rarely breaks onto front page news.

One which often bucks this trend is the debate on free speech, which has repeatedly simmered through the student body before violently erupting into mainstream media.

The most recent instance of this is the white supremacist riots in the college town of Charlottesville, triggered by a student protest concerning the removal of a statue.

In British campuses, this same debate on free speech is hinged to the policy of ‘no-platforming’.

No-platforming is, in its simplest form, a policy which states that those who possess racist or fascist views should be denied a place to speak upon university campuses.

Its supporters argue that the main duty of a university union is to protect its members, and that to allow an inflammatory speaker access to students is an infringement of this.

Detractors of the policy argue that to block speakers who hold opposing views is, in essence, censorship. They argue that universities should be at the centre of debate, and no-platforming is both meddling and regressive.

My own students union, that of Leeds University, has been given a ‘red’ ranking by the online organisation Spiked, placing them amongst the worst in the country. Spiked argue that Leeds’ policy of no-platforming has contributed towards a ‘hostile’ environment for free speech. What they fail to realise however, is that whilst the union has the ability to deny access to speakers, this is a possibility which has never been authorised.

There seems to be an inability to realise that no-platforming doesn’t exist to deny controversial speakers, but rather those who could genuinely cause harm to students. The job of a university is to strive to deliver a varied and challenging spectrum of ideas for its members, but this does not mean the safety of students should ever be jeopardised.

If we want to see the possible outcomes of giving racists validity, we must look no further than to another university campus, that of Virginia, Charlottesville.

* Reece Parker is Editor-in-Chief of The Gryphon at Leeds University