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In the Week 2 Issue of SCAN, an article was written about the accessibility of political discourse on campus. While not a lot of students are quite as public with it as others, it is fair to say that on larger issues, if you ask, everyone will have a viewpoint.
The article in question suggested that “suppression of opinion is actually commonplace in university culture”. It then went on to suggest that those with a political viewpoint further right than a toe past left-wing were subject to discrimination, with “those who are part of the Conservative society or UKIP society” subject to a backlash.
I would hope that students are not subject to discrimination for political viewpoints. I agree wholeheartedly with the writer that universities deserve to be places filled with rich, vibrant debate and that they need to make access for myriad points of view. However, I am not convinced that “Trendy Lefties” are to blame.
As students, we are the most likely demographic in the country to be left-wing. This is down to several factors – owning property and renting a comfortable middle-class house is out of reach for most; jobs are often temporary and low-paid, with little provision for pensions; socially, we are more open to radical ideas which change the status quo as we have less to lose from change than other demographics.
With these reasons in mind, it should be understandable why university campuses tend heavily towards left-wing politics. But there is a difference between a majority left-wing voice, and a suppression of dissent. While the example of Sussex is certainly interesting, it would be better to understand examples of such suppression if and when they occur here at Lancaster, as our student body is better placed to address issues closer to home.
I am concerned by the article’s assumption that conflict of opinion between student media and the students’ union are representative of suppression rather than healthy debate. But as it stands, I have seen no example of suppression of debate, unless the article’s writer believes we should begin allowing hate speech onto campus.
In terms of the gender-neutral toilet debate, it is mentioned that few who disagree with their implementation wish to publicly voice their objections. If students are so concerned that their opinion will lead to them being victimised, perhaps they should consider that it is not the ‘student discourse’ suppressing them, but that their opinion is out of touch, or indeed, offensive, especially when considering a subject such as trans* welfare.
Of course, there is suppression looming on our horizon. The Prevent agenda, a consequence of Theresa May’s policy for countering terrorism and radicalisation in the UK, has led to increasing worry that student debate will be more heavily monitored, with both staff and students actively encouraged to report any debate or viewpoint they feel goes against ‘British values’. Such a vague potential for interpretation could lead to significant suppression of on-campus debate. Whether the University or the Union were in support or not, many students would feel unsafe voicing reasonable opinions that could conflict with ‘British values’ and lead to unfair accusations of terrorism.
It is worth noting, in conclusion, that we students tend to not share the most extreme opinions of the generations before us – we have less discriminatory and prejudicial attitudes than our parents’ generation, and the generation after us will likely have even less. Espousing opinions for the sake of being controversial is not something I am suggesting students want to do – but fighting for a freedom of speech where you refuse to listen to how people view your opinion as discriminatory or offensive is not conducive to debate at all.