Yes -Emma Healey
University is a place where we should be challenged. We should have to think critically about our views, opinions, and actions, and sometimes this challenge will come from reading or listening to someone or something we don’t agree with
However, there has to be a line. We should be challenged, but we also have a right to feel safe and accepted in our Union and at our University. By preventing offensive or extreme speakers speaking, students are being put first. It is for this reason, that POLIS Soc are totally justified in their condemnation of Donald Trump’s vitriolic and misogynistic views.
A lot of the arguments claiming that free speech has been banned or that they are being censored are not coming from the people who will actually be victimised by the sorts of opinions that Donald Trump expresses. In much the same way that it is rarely trans people arguing that Germaine Greer is being silenced, for example – these arguments come from people who will not be the targets of such vitriol. To be able to truly discuss the idea of free speech, we have to keep the most marginalised in mind.
We do have a right to free speech, but we also have a right to exist free from fear. We have a right to be able to go clubbing and not have to listen to a song about sexual assault.
Furthermore, it is absolutely ridiculous that zero tolerance is counted as a limit on free speech – the fact that our Union takes a stand against sexual harassment and challenges racist, sexist, and homophobic language should be seen as an asset. It might restrict the “freedom” of some, but only if you see opposing sexual harassment as a limit on your rights. It is this sort of language that was repeatedly, and still is, employed by Trump and others during his campaign.
Many seem to ignore the fact that when the University or the Union hosts a speaker, they endorse their views. If POLIS Soc remains silent on the hatred espoused by Trump and his followers, it could be seen as a tacit endorsement of this unacceptable attitude.
The whole “if you don’t like it, don’t go” argument works when it is a theatre or an event hosted at a pub. You have the option to not go to that institution. However, are students supposed to feel welcome in a society that refuses to condemn the opinions of those who target them specifically?
Trump and his followers already enjoy such a large platform that to argue they are being silenced is absolutely ridiculous. Trump is going to be President and has toured the country speaking at numerous venues and numerous rallies.
You do have the right to free speech. But why should that also be the right to be sexist, racist or misogynistic? POLIS Soc were right to take a stand against these views and serve the students better by doing so.
No – Charley Weldrick
In the aftermath of the US election, POLIS Soc posted a status distancing themselves from Trump and claiming that those who share his views have no place in their society. This is clearly problematic: freedom of discussion is fundamental to a political society and a committee using their position to stifle debate is worrying.
This reflects a growing atmosphere of censorship on the Leeds campus and beyond. The choice of words from POLIS echoes the prevailing attitude across universities both here and in the US that there is a hierarchy of views, with clearly superior and inferior opinions. This is dangerous and divisive. This is not the first time POLIS have succumbed to this world view rather than standing up for freedom of debate and discussion; last year they supported the LUU policy of banning certain speakers and organisations from appearing at the university.
For a society that should pride itself on open discussion and debate, the status was an enormous blunder. The anger and frustration felt by those who oppose the rise of Trump is understandable, sure, but to deny Trumps views a proper place in discourse is a mistake.
Increasingly Trump supporters are finding themselves targets of contempt, and POLIS’ status is a manifestation of that. It is more important now than ever for POLIS to provide an environment for healthy and inclusive debate: both Brexit and Trump illustrate the widening gulf between sections of Western society. Censorship of any kind cannot overcome this.
Not only does it seem contradictory to the nature of an impartial politics society to outlaw views that differ from those of the committee, but POLIS Soc are giving the impression that they are in a position to judge what is acceptable, that they have some moral ability Trump supporters of all kinds are lacking. It reeks of condescension. POLIS imply minorities cannot defend themselves against these views, that they need a committee to take a hard line to protect them.
By denying a platform to people with particular views all that POLIS have done is vindicate the Trumpian narrative that they are an underdog, fighting against the establishment amidst waves of ever more ludicrous political correctness. Rather than facing these views head on and trying to understand the conditions that led to the rise of Trump, POLIS are choosing to bury their head in the sand, and are trying to force everyone else to do the same. This just perpetuates the conflicts recurrently raging in politics and prevents constructive discussion of how we got to where we are and how we move forward.
POLIS have since apologised for allowing their own views to stifle discussion. This is the correct move. However, it is glaringly obvious that this is only because of a backlash. POLIS remains, and will continue to remain, an openly leftist organisation that holds some characters and organisations in the highest contempt. This is okay, it is practically impossible to remain politically neutral and they reflect the views of a lot of students. I just hope that they take heed of the backlash over this and take steps to stop preventing open discussion.
(Image courtesy of activist post)