Unsafe space

How can students win the battle for free speech on campus?

Winning the battle for free speech on university campuses in the UK is integral to maintaining the founding liberal values of these institutions. The war against free speech is currently being waged by a radical, organised minority of Marxist students, who are willing to use violence and disruption to dominate the campus environment. We students can — and must — fight back using our own methods.

At King’s College London I have faced multiple aggressive or physically violent protests since beginning my studies. On March 5, a group of “Antifa” (so-called anti-fascist) thugs punched their way through the university’s security to shut down a speaking event with the  Israeli-born libertarian Yaron Brook and YouTuber Carl Benjamin (aka Sargon of Akkad). The masked group were working with an amalgam of far-left student societies, including Action Palestine and Justice for Cleaners, who had organised a protest online the previous day demanding the speakers stay “off campus”. Over the course of the evening a window was smashed, two female members of staff were punched, a male security guard was hospitalised and the speakers were silenced.

This is the second instance in two years where violence has been waged to this extent on campus. Last time, university students had to escape via underground tunnels after fire alarms were set off in protest of a former Israeli Shin Bet official speaking to students. This time, the campus was evacuated after smoke bombs were thrown at several locations. The university administration’s response has remained the same, however: rather than punishing those responsible for the violence, it has acted to restrict the very societies being targeted by such illegal behaviour through imposing measures such as Safe Spaces. 

The paternalistic response to such violence means that, through policies such as Safe Space, the imposition of independent chairs and limits on attendees, the main obstacle to free speech on campus is the university administration itself. The university refuses to take steps against the violent individuals acting collectively within student societies to stifle free expression on campus. Instead, it has banned its own lecturer in neurobiology, Dr Adam Perkins, from speaking on “the scientific importance” of free speech. Such actions have a devastating impact on the quality of debate on campus and only embolden the extremist no-platform brigade to further disrupt any event organised by societies they disagree with.

Such adversity has nonetheless driven students who believe in liberty to work harder at advancing free speech on campus. We have launched a campaign to abolish Safe Spaces at the student union by making the ideological and practical case against the fallacy of a Safe Space and gaining the broad support of the student body in doing so. While we will never resort to punches or smoke bombs to further our aims, we can and will make a difference using facts, debate and the merits of liberty. 

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