BY FREDDIE GOUGH
The other day I came across a Facebook post that made reference to the recent Jacob Rees-Mogg event at UWE. The person who wrote the comment portrayed UWE students, and indeed young people at large, as being against freedom of speech and unable to cope with difference of opinion.
Now to be fair, I can see why he drew this conclusion. Much of the media reporting suggested that a huge mob of students turned up and attempted to shut down the event. This fits into the general trend we have seen within British and American universities, where hostile students demand that opinions they don’t like be banned, lest their safe spaces be infiltrated.
However, this characterization of the majority of UWE students just flies in the face of reality. The mob in question was made up of some 8 or 9 people, most of whom were not students here and never had been. Furthermore, while they did try to stop the event from proceeding, their numbers were dwarfed by the 300 or so audience members, of whom nearly all were UWE students.
The fact is that while there is a problem with authoritarianism and censorship amongst young people, painting us all with the same brush doesn’t help those of us who are trying to deal with that. It is us young people who support free speech that bear the greatest brunt from this sloppy criticism. To the anti-free speech protesters, we’re portrayed as fascists and promoters of hate speech. To the older generations who don’t care to look any deeper, we are just presumed to be against freedom of speech on account of our age. We’ve nowhere to go.
I would therefore ask those who fall into the latter category to please give some credit where it’s due. It was students who organised the event, it was students who filled up most of the audience and it was students who pushed back against the protesters and refused to be bullied into submission. While many universities have a lot to answer for with regards to no platforming “controversial” speakers, it doesn’t make this fight any easier when we as reasonable students are consistently maligned by both sides.
It is indeed right that we criticise and ridicule those young people who seek to dismantle free speech. However, we should also use these recent events to recognise the greater portion of students who want to protect it.