Published by The Telegraph on 18/08/16
Sixth form students across the UK will now be preparing for their first term of university having received their A-level results. If you’re one of them, congratulations! But there’s something you need to know.
Of course you’ll already be deluged with pieces of advice about how to survive their time at university. You’ll know how to boil pasta, survive on a miserly budget, and avoid STIs.
For the open-minded student, however, undercooked pasta and overcooked nights out pose a minimal threat to their freedom-loving lifestyle. The intolerant and censorious attitudes promulgated by universities represent a much greater challenge to students looking for a no-holds barred intellectual experience.
So if you really want to have a “university experience” that is genuinely liberal and open to all ideas, you’ll have to beware of the following campus practices:
1. Safe spaces
A “safe space” is a criticism-free zone where a “marginalised” group can flatter itself. Of course, these spaces are only “safe” for those willing to conform to the group’s particular ideology. Worryingly, more than a fifth of UK universities have safe space policies.
As a safe space at the University of Edinburgh demonstrated, any attempt to posit an alternative perspective is invariably rejected. At a student council meeting on the Israel boycott movement, one student was accused of violating safe space rules after she shook her head in disagreement. Under the meeting’s safe space policy, “hand gestures which denote disagreement” were a violation of the safe space.
Instead, try to set up “unsafe spaces” on university campuses where ideas are subject to criticism. Follow the lead of a group of students at LSE and set up a Free Speech Society where all points of view can be expressed.
The university can be a dangerous place for the ardent applauder. According to the NUS, the act of clapping can be “triggering” for certain students. It therefore promotes its substitution for jazz hands in NUS conferences. The NUS suggests jazz hands “make everyone feel able to participate”, forgetting the majority of us would rather cut off our hands than jingle them in the air.
So clap. Clap as loud and often as you can. People have been clapping since the 4th Century BC – surely that deserves a round of applause.
3. Trigger warnings
Trigger warnings are introductory statements written at the start of an excerpt to warn the reader about potentially distressing material. As well as being a virtue-signalling device used to show students how right-on the editor is, the existence of trigger warnings is based on the presumption that students are too weak and vulnerable to cope with an evocative text.
Trigger warnings appear on every NUS document and have started to appear on university texts. Recently, law students at Oxford University demanded trigger warnings be used before lectures on sexual offences. Other students at Oxford were warned of a “racial slur” in Robert Lowell’s For the Union of the Dead. One Durham student even demanded trigger warnings when discussing Titus Andronicus because of Lavinia’s rape in one scene. God forbid a piece of text be evocative.
4. Cultural appropriation
A number of universities have taken action against students who have threatened to appropriate elements of a different culture. Apparently the assimilation of alternative cultures is insensitive.
As a result, the University of Birmingham banned sombreros from a Halloween Party. At the University of Cambridge, parties with the themes “Around the World in 80 Days” and “The Orient Express” were both cancelled ‘to avoid the potential for offence”.
Fortunately for UK students, the most serious repercussions of “cultural appropriation’ occur the other side of the Atlantic. Yoga-lovers will be displeased to know it has been banned at the University as Ottawa because some students were uncomfortable with the ‘cultural issues’ involved.
Happily, the censors have not yet got to everything: you are free to eat your pot noodle while listening to reggae and wearing those harem pants you bought on your gap year. Don’t forget the term “university” is derived from the Latin universus – meaning “the whole”, not “the few”.
While universities used to be place of constant debate, student unions are actively clamping down on discussion by “no-platforming” individuals it believes to be offensive. Not only does this demonstrate an insidious disregard for freedom of expression, but it also means students miss out from listening to genuinely interesting speakers.
40 per cent of UK universities advocate no-platforming policies. As a result, veteran feminist Julie Bindel was banned from the University of Manchester, human rights activist Maryam Namazie from Goldsmiths University and gay activist Peter Tatchell from Canterbury Christ Church University. UCL’s student union even attempted to no-platform a man who travelled to Syria to fight against Isil on the grounds that “one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist” – because, y’know, fighting Isil might not be good thing…
A number of universities are also doing their utmost to prevent students from having a laugh. The absurd steps taken by student unions to stop students larking about is summed up by the banning of ‘offensive sexual noises’ on a multiple campuses, including Cambridge, Newcastle, UCL, Sussex and St Andrews.
If that bothers you, you can always head down to the union bar and turn it into an orgy of argument. Demonstrate that students can cope with a few groans.