Our amber ‘free speech’ rating is a colour to wear with pride


Shaun Kennedy

The verdict has been delivered: we are amber. Spiked Online decided this in light of Glasgow University’s policy on free speech, citing the QMU’s ban on the song ‘Blurred Lines’ as well as the refusal to give homophobic cleric, Mufti Ismail Menk a platform. As the novelist Bret Easton Ellis frequently declares on his podcast “free speech is under attack. Universities are supposed to be places for ideas!” Unless of course those ideas are that we should limit hate speech on campus, or prevent – let’s say rape friendly – lyrics being played in venues that are statistically very likely to have sexual assault victims present. Not those ideas, apparently. Those ideas are anti-intellectual.

It’s a fine, clear line you see; free speech is an obvious, unambiguous ideal, so please shut the hell up and respect it. Please also give a platform at your educational institution for all manner of opinions – from Mufti Ismail Menk who claims that “gays are worse than animals,” to Katie Hopkins who says, well, too much. Please do so because in our modern world, there is just no other possible way for these spiteful opinions, though opinions nonetheless, to be heard. Except of course Reddit, broadcast news, political rallies, rating-hungry daytime TV, Youtube, council halls, magazines, private venues, Twitter, newspapers, radio, blogs, Facebook and books. Students of course, don’t interact with these things, it’s only by freak coincidence that I have even heard about the threat we, as consumers of modern education, are under. This threat is the ‘safe-space’ anti-reality that is ill-preparing us for the real world, where many people think gays are subhuman and you just have to deal with it because that’s freedom for you.

I don’t quite know where the staggering over-subscription to mental health services on campus quite fits into our safe-space-bubble portrayal. Try waiting at 9am on the University’s Counselling and Psychological Services website for an emergency session during term time – click and you’ll miss it as it’s overbooked by your depressed or anxious classmates. Perhaps excessive use of technology and social media, exams, essays, peer pressure, alienation, and being part of a particularly alcoholic student culture is actually – dare I say – as stressful as the big bad ‘real world.’

Being born with certain privileges, I can’t imagine what it would be like to have all of this pressure as a student and to be sharing your seminar building with another lecture proposing that you don’t belong in the university, the country or even the world. I don’t know about safe-spaces, but I’d definitely be looking for unthreatened ones. Try and imagine the atmosphere of hostility and fear that such an event would attract.

I’ve also never had to worry about the idea that when I go out for a drink there may be songs playing in my bar of choice advocating sexual assault against me. I’ve never been the victim of such an assault, so I don’t have to worry about a song triggering flash-backs or intimidating me. I’d certainly be grateful for just one pub, one environment close to home, where I had no fear of hearing them. Hell, it might even save my life.

So Spiked, go ahead and give Glasgow an amber rating and please, raise your concerns about free speech. Free speech requires vigilance and it is one of the most noble ideals in the free world, but it doesn’t automatically displace all other concerns. Freedom of speech, as with freedom of anything, requires restrictions at its extremes. And I disagree with you that ‘PC culture’ on campus is not preparing students for the real world; in fact it is teaching them to challenge discrimination, hate-speech and misogyny in and beyond university. After all, if the real world is as terrible as you say it is, it could use the challenge. Therefore, with the almighty authority bestowed upon me as an unpaid student journalist, I hereby award Glasgow University, with all its shortcomings, a green light for sticking up for its students.


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