by Lucy Auger
NUS’ ‘No-Platform’ policy is the refusal to allow ‘racists or fascists’ to speak at NUS events or alongside NUS representatives. Bearing in mind that this policy is often conflated with attempts by individual Students’ Unions to ban certain speakers from their campuses, it has been dubbed by many as an attack on free speech, and further confirmation that the ‘intolerant student left’ have become more concerned with hiding in their progressive echo-chambers than with serious, healthy debate.
On the contrary. When students petitioned Cardiff SU to cancel a talk by Germaine Greer to show their condemnation of her advocacy of trans-exclusionary feminism, and refusal to accept that trans women are women, they amplified the voices of both Germaine Greer and the students fighting against her. The story became caught up in the debate around no platforming, and as a result, it is often used to attack no-platforming despite Germaine Greer not actually having been banned. When the outraged reports and opinion pieces began to appear, Greer’s transphobic statements seeped through onto the pages of The Guardian, The Telegraph and The Huffington Post among many others, but what followed suit was the increasingly pressing debate surrounding radical feminists and their often problematic views on the place of trans people in feminism. For every paper that churned out the same monotonous, dreary tale about universities no longer being a forum for debate, a discussion was sparked about trans-exclusionary feminism, and the debate was lifted off campuses and onto a national stage.
Greer was not denied a voice. In fact, her talk went ahead. But the media reaction allowed Greer to vocally defend her views whilst the campaign for trans rights was briefly given a national platform. Her talk was not cancelled (and while we’re at it, it’s worth pointing out that a recent survey of Students’ Unions showed that no speaker has been banned from a campus in the last year), but if this is the reaction to a simple petition to keep campus a safe space for trans students, imagine the publicity we could harness if we actually did start no-platforming.
Student-led protests are largely ignored or misreported by the media. Campaigns on campuses are accused of being inward-looking and detached from the real world. So for student activists searching for ways to rock the boat, you can see how the thought of journalists waiting with bated breath for students to justify their latest, so-called no-platforming decision, would seem like an attractive prospect.
When the decision of an Students’ Union to ban speakers or cancel talks on campus, or rather, in most instances, the unfounded allegation of a Students’ Union doing so, is attacked purely on the grounds that it shuts down healthy debate, the argument for no-platforming is only strengthened. Each time this happens, so-called defenders of free speech kick up such a fuss that the debate gets thrust onto a national platform. It is clear that the promise of even a few lines in a national newspaper is an attractive prospect for students who are so used to having their voices limited to shouting down these bigots in half-empty lecture theatres late into the night.
‘Stop censoring me!’ they cry from their double paged spread in The Sunday Times.
There’s a distinct irony, of course, to the statements of indignation from individuals like Peter Tatchell and Germaine Greer that have started appearing on our Facebook and Twitter feeds. ‘Stop censoring me!’ they cry from their double paged spread in The Sunday Times. Watching these public figures who many see as icons of liberation, use their platform to criticise underrepresented students struggling to make their voices heard, leaves a sour taste to say the least.
Peter Tatchell was not no-platformed, but he was apparently so offended that not every lgbt+ person would jump at the chance to share a platform with him, that he has decided to act as though he has been. Fortunately, because so many media outlets seem to have been so deeply offended by this case of no-platforming, however false it is, it is serving to be a perfect example of why we need to maintain and even extend our no-platform policy. Many LGBT+ students share concerns that Tatchell holds a warped view of homophobia within Islam, and that he has shown tacit agreement with Greer, Julie Bindel, Kate Smurthwaite and others, through his defence of their public complaints over having been supposedly no-platformed. The NUS LGBT+ Officer’s decision to not share a platform with Tatchell has brought these concerns to the fore, and as a result, another important debate is being had about whether the LGBT+ liberation movement is doing enough to resist complacency, embrace intersectionality and empower the most marginalised groups in our community.
Admittedly, my defence of no-platforming is partly selfish. For many students, myself included, coming to university is a liberating experience precisely because it allows us to create a space that briefly filters out the aggressive hum of bigotry from the outside world. For the first time, I feel as though I can shut the door firmly in the faces of any racist, fascist or bigot I don’t have the time for. We have to endure these objectionable views in every other walk of life; in parliament, in the media, and in our own communities, but on our campuses we have the opportunity to say no to these people, and that is an opportunity that I will fight to hold on to. As a first year student living on campus I feel absolutely that the university is my home, and as students, we should feel no shame in slamming our front door on anyone we like.
Featured image © Alex Lake / Sunday Times