On the 1st of November 2019 the SU hosted a debate arguing for or against the implementation of a ‘No platform for Hate Speech policy’. RHUL students will be able to vote on this policy from the 6th of November to the 8th of November. To be eligible to vote you must hold membership to the SU.
The policy aims to prevent individuals and groups with views deemed to be hate speech from obtaining a platform to spread extreme ideas on campus. Arguing against the implementation of this policy we have Jessica Lee and Adam Ryan-Self from the committee of debating society. Arguing for the policy we have Cav Budd and Amber Onver from the committee of Left Forum.
The debate was called as a response to the dispute over the recently cancelled talk by controversial media personality Katie Hopkins. The event, which prompted an overwhelming backlash from the student body, was cancelled by the Student Union due to safety concerns and that the group that organised the talk, didn’t have the time or money to put security in place. Katie Hopkins has been known for her far-right extremist views and blatant islamophobia. Therefore, many students were concerned that inviting her on campus would give her the platform to spread harmful and extreme ideas on campus, which would foster an unsafe environment, leaving minority groups particularly vulnerable.
The main arguments presented by the side of the debate in favour of the proposal is that the adoption of the policy is key to safe-guarding minority groups on campus. They also believe that there is a need for an enshrined anti-hate speech policy in the SU constitution. The policy would ensure that public discourse is regulated, and a safe space is maintained on campus. They argue that universities have a duty of care over their students and must strive to keep their best interests at heart. Seemingly, the enactment of this policy will achieve this duty, as it will help limit the spread of hate speech on campus, ensuring that students of every race, gender and religion, are protected from discrimination and prejudice. In a way, ‘hate speech itself is an action as words have weight’ and exposure to hate will certainly harm student welfare. Inviting an individual such as Hopkins would legitimise and validate her views, potentially normalising extreme ideologies on campus that discriminate against Muslims, ethnic minorities and other marginalised groups.
The panellists who were against this policy expressed concern that it infringes on the fundamental right to freedom of speech and would ultimately restrict open debate on campus. They argue that this policy is akin to ‘institutional censorship’. They also state that hate speech is an ambiguous concept that is hard to define and just because an individual holds views regarded as offensive does not mean that they should be silenced. Everyone has a voice and so surely it is the democratic right of every individual to be heard? They argue that as students we must learn to be intellectually critical of every idea which we can achieve through challenging and deliberating alternative ideas rather than shutting them down. Freedom of speech is key to the development of a democratic and open campus society and we should practice tolerance towards ideas that may fall outside our own belief system.
This is clearly a complex issue and was argued impressively on both sides. It was inspiring to see students debating in good spirit showing active leadership on important issues. We as RHUL students have the power to collectively decide and influence the outcome of this referendum, which is why it is so important to vote and use voice for change. Voting starts 10am Tuesday 6th of November right here!