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The recent news about gender-neutral toilets inside Sugar is one that brought about many different perspectives. People have very strong feelings for and against the decision, yet some were reluctant to share the more controversial viewpoint – not liking the installation – in public. Given the myriad of opinions and beliefs that can be found in any group in society, it’s expected that some people wouldn’t agree. Yet, the issue in this case was that no-one was prepared to step forward for fear of being attacked for their opinion. This should have been a shocking revelation, but what is truly shocking is the fact suppression of opinion is actually commonplace in university culture, where you would think the right to expression would enjoy the most security.
SCAN, like many student newspapers, has a comment section, where all students are invited to share their opinions of recent news and events, but not every student is given a voice. When you read through the section, all the articles appear to be coming from one dominant faction of students – the so-called ‘trendy lefties’. This isn’t the fault of the section editor or paper as a whole, nor is one single person to blame. Comment articles are often met with criticism, but when the person is invited to write an opposing view, they shy away because they know that they are in the minority. They’re scared of the possible backlash that they may face.
That’s not to say that we should blindly accept everyone’s opinion if we ourselves do not agree with it. Debate is fantastic. It stimulates everyone involved and allows people to create a well thought-out argument. It’s exactly why this section of the paper exists. What isn’t fantastic is suppressing anyone’s views just because you don’t agree.
Watching the student media and our Students’ Union locking horns is an all too common example of the student body as a whole suffering the suppression they, normally subconsciously, dish out themselves. Recently, the University of Sussex Students’ Union pulled the student paper – The Badger – from shelves and suspended the elected editor over an article that went to print. The article looked at legal proceedings that were being taken against the university by a former student (a student that clearly was not happy with their experience at university). Although the article was legally correct and should have been allowed to be printed and distributed to the students, controversial opinions were quashed. The union then went on to take control of emails and social media to stop people speaking out against their decision. The union, who is supposedly representative of all their students, would not allow opinions that didn’t fit their own agenda.
In previous years, SCAN has also had issues with our Students’ Union and it is something that all student media across the country seem to be able to relate to. We are allowed to have an opinion until it is seen as too controversial and against popular belief within the student body. This should not be the case. Groups go on about freedom of speech, but only until someone comes up with an attitude that is against their own.
University is a strange area of society, where we are told time and time again to find our voice, to speak out about world issues before we are placed in a world where we must keep our heads down and do the same job day-in and day-out. But unless that voice is a liberal left one, people feel as though this is not the case. It isn’t just seen in student media either, but many societies feel the same way. Those who are part of the Conservative society or UKIP societies face backlash at university. The very same university that tells them they can be whoever they want to be and believe whatever they wish. It’s ironic that followers of a party so often accused of suppressing the expression of minorities are themselves a suppressed minority at university.
University as a culture is largely based on acceptance and freedom to be who we are. At the moment, we are not standing by this. We should be allowing people to voice their opinions and concerns, as controversial as they may be.