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Why the NUS needs to stop 'no-platforming'

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What do you think when you hear the term ‘free speech’? Do you picture students engaging in open debate, passionately and vigorously discussing what they believe in? Or do you see protest? Young people arguing and fighting for their beliefs.

For students at higher education institutes – once bastions for free speech – neither scenario now applies. Universities have become censored safe spaces propelled by liberal fascism, where individuals’ with different opinions are intimidated into not speaking, or banned from participating at all.

Yet apparently, nearly two thirds (63%) of university students believe the National Union of Students (NUS) is right to have a ‘no-platforming’ policy, according to a ComRes survey of 1,001 students. As a result, students and their unions across the UK are no-platforming speakers and institutions whose speech they find offensive.

While the NUS’ no-platform policy is designed to protect students from hate speech and offensiveness, there’s one fundamental thing to remember: offensiveness is subjective.

No-platforming is essentially intellectual cowardice. It’s patronising to students to think we’re so impressionable that listening to those with extremist views will make us extremist. In fact, more often than not listening to those with extremist views has the opposite effect. For example when Nick Griffin appeared on Question Time in 2009, he lost significant support for the party.

Generation ‘special snowflake’ needs to wake up and self-reflect. Students and universities need to defend the right to be offensive. Banning debate is a violation of basic human rights, and a democracy can’t function without it.

Defenders of the safe space policy say they prevent hate speech, but the law is already in place to do just that. Hate speech laws are in several statutes, and expression of hatred is illegal and can result in imprisonment.

In fact a 37-page report recently found that the no-platform policy is only legal when applied to members of proscribed groups, such as terrorists, and is otherwise in breach of the 1986 Education Act.

Students aren’t children; we don’t believe everything we hear and we don’t automatically subscribe to any viewpoint we’re subjected to.

The no-platform policy is scaring the next generation of leaders into silence and the endemic suppression of free speech is bad news for democracy – open discussion between people with opposing views can resolve societal tensions.

Newsflash: it’s okay for someone to have an opposing viewpoint on issues of race, religion, gender, nationality and politics. Many unions across the country have decided they’re pro-Brexit, but does this mean we should ban StudentsForBritain from campus?

If so, where does it end? Speakers, newspapers, political parties, songs, politicians and comedians are already being banned all over the country, but it’s inconsistent and not representative. Germaine Greer, Maryam Namazie and Peter Tatchell should be allowed to speak, pole-dancing societies shouldn’t be prohibited and student media should be uncensored.

People’s opinions might be offensive, wrong and idiotic, but it’s their right to think what they please and express themselves. Student bodies are made up of tens of thousands of people with varying backgrounds, viewpoints and beliefs. Imposing one voice that shouts the loudest on all of them is a betrayal of a generation. We don’t have the right to not be offended.

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