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YUSU Elections – The Presidential Candidates on Free Speech and No-Platforming

With a significant amount of recent debate over the right of individuals to speak on Campus – or, indeed, the right of the student body to deny speakers access to a platform when their views are deemed dangerous, offensive or harmful to student welfare – we thought it was important to ask the candidates for the YUSU Presidency what they think about the issue, as they move forward with their campaigns for the Wooden-Planked House.

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Under what circumstances should external speakers, or members of panels, be denied access to campus or the right to speak?

Millie Beach – “I believe that the student union should encourage freedom of speech as it is a fundamental human right (see Human Rights Act of 1998). On a more personal level, I feel that universities have historically been a centre of learning and discussion and just because you disagree with an opinion, doesn’t mean that the speaker doesn’t have a right to voice it.”

“However, I feel like we need to carefully consider on a case by case basis whether speakers are allowed to speak if they are encouraging ideas that incite terrorism, violence or are against criminal law. I do feel as though we need to improve the safeguarding facilities put in place, including not hosting these events in close proximity to accommodation, including break out rooms, and working with Part time officers to support anyone who may feel discriminated against.”

Ciaran Morrissey – “When the speaker in question can be reasonably expected to try and cause physical harm to members of the student body and when the speaker in question has repeatedly refused to share a panel or platform with an individual with differing viewpoints.”

“There’s no right to a platform, and societies should be able to withdraw platforms for whatever reason they see fit. Nobody has any right to an uncontested platform, or to airtime in student media. However, this does not mean that speakers should be actively prevented from speaking, once invited, by other members of the student body. We should encourage groups to air their grievances about particular speakers, but this should be just a component of the wider campus conversation.”

Habib Nassar – “The University should be a place for debate and learning, and the free expression of controversial opinions is part of this. YUSU should support societies that want to bring in speakers for debates. However, that does not mean that the university doesn’t need to consider its responsibility to be aware of the power dynamic it creates when giving a speaker a platform. Where controversial speakers are invited, we should work to also support the voices of those holding opposing opinions – through creating panels and allowing extended question and answer time for debate. Given that the campus is a place of residence, there is also a place for trigger/content warnings and some place for censorship in the case where hate speech poses a threat to the physical or mental health of students.”

“The wellbeing of students is paramount.”

JJ Wilson – “When they are promoting active hate speech.”

Oliver Wilson – “I passionately believe in the right to free speech and freedom of expression. University campuses are best placed to expose students to a variety of competing viewpoints and ideas, and this position as a facilitator of debate and discussion should be championed. However, Universities are also an inherently curated experience – we don’t have modules on every fringe theory – and so those invited to speak at the University should, at a minimum, have views that have reasonable academic value.”

Ananna Zaman – “If there is a threat to student welfare, whether that be mental or physical.”