We believe that censorship is beginning to characterise student union policies.
This is starting to undermine some of the fundamental elements of university life: the right to engage, attend
constructive debates, and express oneself freely as a student.
We call for students unions, the National Union of Students, and other bodies to enact the #Right2Debate policy. The #Right2Debate policy is a procedure for concerns to be raised by student unions and groups about a speaker who may be attacking the values of mutual tolerance and respect. This campaign, however, places the onus on the right to debate as opposed to no-platforming as a means to counter speakers who propagate divisive and intolerant narratives.
We also call for individuals and groups on all sides of the political spectrum to support the #Right2Debate policy. With your support and the implementation of this policy we can create a new space for debate, dialogue, and discussion within our universities.
The #Right2Debate movement is led by students from across the country and from a wide variety of backgrounds. We are particularly proud to be supported by:
This movement is supported by Quilliam. The key editors of the policy include members of the student societies above.
We acknowledge and respect the safe-space policy guidelines followed by student unions (SU) from across the country. However SUs and many others are reacting to views by resorting to censorship and no-platforming. This movement calls for SU to reform their policies contesting rather than removing divisive and extremist narratives. We continue to respect the law and agree that speakers should not be allowed onto university campuses if they incite hatred and/or advocate violence.
Resorting to censorship should only be done by SUs in the extreme cases that speakers are breaking the law of inciting hatred or violence. If this is the case, these individuals must be regarded as using threatening words or behaviour to stir up hatred towards the inalienable traits of others -referring to those things that cannot be taken or given away- and not on the critique, scrutiny or satirisation of ideas or beliefs. The inalienable personal traits of the human being is defined in virtue of his or her inalienable right to one’s sexuality, gender, racial and cultural identification, and right to hold non-violent belief.
The #Right2Debate movement believes that building a more trusted relationship between SUs and students is vital. This is especially true for students who feel that their SU has failed in its duty to promote free speech or create safe spaces. The policy proposed here aims to solve this problem by creating a more effective line of communication between students. This will have a uniform, transparent, structure that helps students express their discontent with SU decision-making on extremist or divisive speakers on campus. It makes clear the requirements and expectations of all parties.
Extremist ideologies must be challenged by an empowered civil society.
Allowing extremist and divisive speakers to lecture on university campuses without any challenge means their harmful, but sometimes persuasive, views can contribute to an atmosphere of intolerance. This leads to vulnerable individuals becoming more susceptible to radicalisation, it makes student communities feel unsafe, and it undermines a positive university experience for all.
However, banning individuals means compromising free speech and leaving these ideologies uncontested - pushing those wishing to discuss difficult issues towards other platforms and potentially falling under negative influences (for example social media and online forums). The only way to deal with these issues is to empower the campus community through civil dialogue and debate. This means supporting students to challenge extremist and divisive views with the values of mutual tolerance and respect.
Few disagree that universities should be bastions of free thought and ideas. It is
clear that many views can, and do, cause offence and that this can lead to frank
discussion. However, this does not, on its own, constitute grounds for censorship.
Instead, students need to feel confident that they have the means to counter extremist
and divisive views in a safe and civil manner.
The university environment’s greatest asset is its rich tapestry of ideas. Debating these ideas equips students with the capacity to think critically and expand their horizons. They should not be pushed towards conforming to a particular viewpoint.
This movement can only be successful if students and young people take the lead. It also requires close working relationships with relevant authorities, like the National Union of Students and university officials.
To take part in this movement, students are advised to contact organisations that share their values and goals. They should work with them to obtain signatures of support and raise awareness of the #Right2Debate movement. Together they should work with officials at their university to educate them about #Right2Debate and to also engage their student union. They should also discuss the movement with National Union of Students representatives.
This is a vital part of the movement’s engagement with those who represent and work for students. However, the most important part of #Right2Debate is students working together to support the movement. Obtaining support, engaging with other societies, and raising awareness of free speech and debate are at the heart of this work. Organising events and engaging with important individuals in their local community will make it even more effective.