Are Safe Space Policies Harming Free Speech on Campus?

The KCLSU Safe Space Policy and External Speaker Policy have been heavily debated amongst King’s students. While the intention is good, many are concerned it is harming free speech on campus. Roar News has spoken to some of the political societies at King’s, to find out where they stand in regard to the Safe Space Policy, and whether they experience difficulties when arranging events as a result.

This policy is a framework created to ensure that all students are “free from intimidation or harassment resulting for prejudice or discrimination on the grounds of age, disability, marital or maternity/paternity status, race, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, gender identity, trans status, socio-economic status, or ideology or culture, or any other form of distinction”. Although not controversial in its objective, ‘safe spaces’ have been questioned by several students as harmful to university life, and to the discourse and debates that should take place on a university campus. The KCL Libertarian Society, in particular, has critiqued what they believe is harming free speech on campus. Claiming the policies do not cause the society to self-censor, a society spokesperson states that “the KCLSU has a vaguely worded safe space policy that could dangerously infringe on external speaker events if implemented to the fullest extent.” The Libertarian Society claims that the existence of Safe Space Marshalls is deeply troubling and marks the decline of free speech on campus.

The KCL Labour Society, on the other hand, are quick to point out that they are behind the Safe Space Policy. The society’s Social Media Officer Chris Davies states that “The Safe Space Policy has not limited our ability to have speakers come to our events, or influenced the kind of events we hold.” He goes on to say that KCL Labour Society believes the Safe Space Policy is necessary to make all students feel comfortable at events, mentioning that some students might not be able to speak up for themselves, should they feel marginalised.

Conversely, other societies voice concern about the policy. KCL Politics Society president Diego Rodríguez Mejías states that however committed to being non-partisan and showing both sides of a debate, “the KCLSU External Speakers Policy makes it very difficult to organise events with speakers from outside King’s. We have been forced to cancel or move events in the past because of this policy.” These concerns are shared with the KCL Diplomacy Society, who, although supporters of the goals of the policy, “believe that university should always be an atmospheric forum for the exchanging of ideas, no matter how controversial.”

The concern of most political societies at King’s seems to be that the university might stop being a place where students’ minds are being challenged, which is indeed a dark picture to envision. As the KCL Libertarian Society points out, the vagueness of the policies, and subsequently the vague definitions of hate speech, can result in the grouping of a lot of opinions in the same category, without distinguishing between unpopular opinions and hate speech. Whether the political societies at KCL remain up for the challenge imposed on them by the KCLSU, remains to be determined.

Roar News has reached out for comments from the KCL Conservative Association and the KCL Women in Politics Society without receiving any response.

Labour Society

KCL Labour are not self-censoring and KCLSU’s safe space policy is incredibly important when getting external or internal speakers in to ensure there is no discrimination on the grounds of gender, ethnicity, sexuality, religion or any other distinction. The safe space policy has not limited our ability to have speakers come to our events, or influenced the kind of events we hold. Just because the safe space doesn’t have a major influence over our society, it doesn’t mean it isn’t irrelevant as a policy. As KCLSU outline in their policy they recognise “discrimination can occur wherever it is not consciously challenged”. As we saw with the event held by the Libertarian society with Carl Benjamin the safe space policy is necessary. This is a man who is known for inciting feelings of division, a known alt-right sympathiser, who has joked about rape threats towards a Labour MP as well as belittling the accusations of women towards Harvey Weinstein, describing them as “gold digging whores”. The event with Carl Benjamin was precisely why KCLSU’s safe space policy is necessary as he is a person who puts out views which are controversial, offensive and divisive. The violent protest was of course completely wrong and KCL Labour stands against any form of violent protest and support those who peacefully protested on the night, as we made clear in a statement at the time. To be clear, KCL Labour is fully supportive of KCLSU’s Safe Space policy as outlined above, it is necessary to make all students feel comfortable at events as sometimes people will not feel able to speak up for themselves if they feel marginalised. I hope this helps to gauge where we stand on safe space.

– Chris Davis, Labour Society Social Media Officer

Politics Society

Thank you for contacting us. The Politics Society upholds the principles of non-partisanship and student initiative. We organise balanced discussion panels by inviting speakers who represent all sides of the debate. This approach allows us to responsibly debate any topic and we definitely do not censor ourselves. However, KCLSU External Speakers Policy makes it very difficult to organise events with speakers from outside King’s. We have been forced to cancel or move events in the past because of this policy.

– Diego Rodríguez Mejías, KCL Politics Society President

Diplomacy Society

Thank you very much for contacting us regarding our event’s itinerary and its impressions on the wider student body. King’s Diplomacy is committed to providing premier foreign affairs insight for our members through numerous events: guest speakers, embassy visits and socials. We believe that such activity contributes positively to campus. However, we also recognise that there are times when others do not share this view, and we respect that. However, in saying that our society does not recognise safe space, and while we acknowledge certain events may prove ‘controversial’, we are undeterred in hosting them if we as a committee view them to have significant value to our members. King’s Diplomacy strongly believes that university should always be an atmospheric forum for the exchanging of ideas, no matter how controversial.

– The Committee

A quick amendment to what has been said above. We as a society do of course respect and comply by the KCLSU safe space policies that are in place. We just want to point out that we do not cancel events that may be controversial as we are committed to facilitating discussion and exchanging ideas. However, we also do our utmost to ensure that our members feel safe, comfortable, and included at such events. Thus, we believe such possibly controversial events can be held without violating the safe space policies outlined by KCLSU.

– King’s Diplomacy President

Libertarian Society

We as a Libertarian Society do not self-censor. To the contrary, we select topics and speakers that are controversial and provoke an interesting debate that ought to be had. As an example, our latest event on the 24th October was a debate on Abortion between the Chief Executive of the largest abortion provider in the U.K. and the Education head for the largest pro-life organisation in the UK.

We are not afraid to tackle and discuss the big issues head on. This is because we believe we should not be ducking away from the difficult and “controversial” issues, but rather letting people make up their own mind and decide where they stand.

That’s imperative for free speech.

In contrast, the university has actively censored Dr Adam Perkins when he was due to speak for us last Match. Furthermore, the union has a vaguely worded safe space policy that could dangerously infringe on external speaker events if implemented to the fullest extent. For us, the very fact that “safe space Marshalls” have to be deployed at student events is deeply worrying and marks the decline of free speech on campus. Students should be exposed to challenging their ideas and fuelling their intellectual growth, and the safe space policy combats that.

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