Free speech on campus: the fight is closer to home than you thought

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The liberty of an individual within society is always limited. For society to function, there must exist a degree of oppression on an industrial scale and repression on an individual scale. People cannot simply be left to do as they please.

Speech then, or the ability to express oneself, is included within these limitations. For freedom to exist in a true form, that is, for an individual to behave as they choose without the influence of external force, any censorship or interference must be removed.

The depth of social and governmental influence on the individual however, is so deep that it cannot be evaded. The individual is instead left with only the freedom to choose what is already decided, from a certain range of sanctioned decisions that will not result in immediate excommunication from the society in which they find themselves.

Free speech then, is a form of choice. A choice for a person to express or not express whatever opinion or belief that has most prominence in their minds. Traditionally, free speech is limited by the state in order to achieve two goals: to quell any political dissidence and to suppress rouge or extreme views that may cause harm to sanctioned groups or particular backgrounds.

Speaking freely is also limited on smaller scales, such as a ‘social contract’ held between friends or families. To operate with ease within society, one must limit the expression of their views and moderate what they say and do. When a force external to what an individual believes is their own ‘free choice’ threatens to disrupt what may or may not be said it is met with resistance.

Embrace the chance to have not only your own voice heard, but that of your peers, for there may be little chance for this opportunity to repeat itself later in life.

The conspicuous limitation of the right to speak freely by a powerful external force is an obvious enemy for the individual. The Gryphon newspaper is currently struggling against its quiet suffocation by Leeds University Union as its issues are sidelined in favour of more fashionable concerns: the student elections.

This is a time when the abundance of posters and candidates screaming for recognition reduces the freedom of choice to a stupefying crass mess that is mostly ignored by those who feel they have no interest. Indeed, if the students campus is a microcosm for society as a whole it is succeeding in mirroring wider societies problems.

The student paper gives a legitimacy to its contributors that is hard won elsewhere.

Democracy that does not engage. A media outlet that must fight to convince those it attempts to represent that it is of value to them. A system of toil and meagre rewards that is merely a step along the line towards eventual subsumption into ‘the real world’. What is University if not the last step to becoming a member of ‘adult society’?

So why then is freedom of speech important? What does a voice within a students newspaper like The Gryphon offer? The Gryphon does not ask for a CV or a reference in order for an aspiring writer to get involved. Neither does it discriminate on the basis of the political allegiances, race, gender or sexuality of its contributors. You will not be asked to fill out a form or sign on the dotted line before you are given a chance to express your views on a wide platform. The student paper gives a legitimacy to its contributors that is hard won elsewhere. To anyone who is sceptical about the newspaper run by students for students, I would say this: embrace the chance to have not only your own voice heard, but that of your peers, whoever they may be. For there may be little chance for this opportunity to repeat itself later in life.

Samuel Lewis 

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