Cameron Scheijde responds to recent Comment article Epigram published, arguing that Bristol’s red light ranking for censorship is wrong.
A red light free speech category is not an indication that we’re “doing everything right”.
To clarify, before I start this article, I agree with the premise of Cripps’ argument: that if promoting awareness on sexual assault, challenging misogyny and cultural insensitivity is “censorship”, then surely it can’t be a bad thing. In this regard, I also disagree with Spiked’s reasoning for Bristol’s red light category. Seeing “Ending Rape Culture at the University of Bristol” in big red letters as a con is something I find very troubling, along with the amber “zero tolerance on sexual assault”. Spiked seems to be inferring that to win a green light one has to “tolerate” sexual assault which, again, is troubling.
However, this being said, I do agree that the SU, an organisation established to represent the interests of University of Bristol students, suppresses freedom of speech. In this regard, Spiked is right. In fact, Bristol has achieved a red light rating for every year that Spiked has conducted this study. They define the red ranking as follows:
“A students’ union, university or institution that is hostile to free speech and free expression, mandating explicit restrictions on speech, including, but not limited to, bans on specific ideologies, political affiliations, beliefs, books, speakers or words.”
To disregard this study as simply tabloid magazine sensationalism would also be grossly misleading: this was a scientific study conducted and overseen by Professor Dennis Hayes (head of educational research at Derby university) and Dr Joanna Williams (senior lecturer in higher education at Kent University). It should therefore be taken seriously as an indication of our union’s attitude to alternative political beliefs.
As an example, the SU launched a campaign recently to no-platform philosopher Roger Scruton from speaking due to his controversial opinions on gay marriage. I believe he is completely wrong, but to remove his platform to speak, despite his status as a world-renowned academic, is the manifestation of censorship. When stories like this garner national press attention, it feeds the idea that Universities are becoming bastions of intolerance and censorship. Whilst we are lucky to live in a country where women’s, LGBTQ, and minority rights are championed, there are many people who hold contrary opinions: especially those of conservative faith in the United States. How can students hope to challenge these opinions when such a policy of no-platforming exists? An open mind is crucial, and banning speakers is the very opposite to this.
Perhaps Cripps is right: the red light is a thing to be proud of if it is only due to the SU’s policy on sexual harassment and consent classes. However, it could be indicative of a move towards further censorship, of speakers, of newspapers or dissenting opinions. Cripps ends the article:
“In all likelihood, this article will probably be ripped to shreds by censorship tyrants who believe there is no justification for preventing free speech”
I hope I have not ‘ripped to shreds’ your article, but rather acknowledged the very legitimate points made whilst drawing attention to the dangers of censorship.