By Jack Chadwick
The issue of this tactic was raised last term as part of the strong reaction to a couple of very concerning events at the university.
The speakers in question each had long records of attacking marginalised groups – and when hate speech is aired it risks reinforcing the daily abuse that people in these groups experience. As a liberation network, this is naturally of great worry to us.
'No-platforming' asks that the university – the community we all belong to – prevents its facilities from being used to propagate views that degrade the people who experience racist, transphobic, disablist or queerphobic abuse. It also asks that our union doesn’t enable these views with its own resources.
It was with the events of last term in mind that our network discussed and reached a decision on no-platforming last Wednesday – and the result is admittedly complicated.
At the meeting, we considered 'yes' to no-platforming, in the form of us (the network) asking for liberation groups to be given a veto by the union / university to block events with hate speech. We considered a straightforward 'no' to no-platforming: opposition to blocking such events in any circumstances. We also considered a third option, called 'Comprehensive Student Review' (by Jaz, initial proposer), asking that we keep no-platforming on the table, but only when agreed comprehensively by the entire student body, in relation to certain events.
22 people cast votes anonymously at the meeting, with myself and Evie abstaining and a few others having to leave early, or choosing not to vote. In the first round, 15 voted for CSR, 5 for opposition to no-platforming in all instances, and 2 for supporting no-platforming. Because CSR received approximately 69% of the vote in the first round, a second was unnecessary, and CSR is now adopted as the network's position.
According to the discussion in the meeting, the policy of Comprehensive Student Review is understood to entail the following practical points:
- Adapting the network’s position on an event-by-event basis.
- No-platforming in instances where it’s agreed through Extraordinary Referendum.
- Campaigning for the union to amend its by-laws to allow Extraordinary Referendum when requested by the liberation networks.
Here are some of the arguments raised in favour of CSR at the meeting (you can read the some minutes here for a fuller overview of the discussion):
- No-platforming does not always lead to student safety – the backlash, in the form of abuse and intimidation, could get worse. Example from the meeting: the abuse against people of colour following from the barring of Islamophobic speakers on campuses like Goldsmith’s or Warwick.
- Depriving hateful speakers of publicity could maybe be better achieved with other tactics. It was suggested that tactics may exist that are less reliant on the labour of people in liberation groups.
- No-platforming might not offer an easy way to mitigate the effects of hate speech: it would be hard to enact. Network would have to build support for a policy empowering liberation groups to veto people who further their oppression – it was expressed that the majority would probably not be willing to grant this power to liberation groups.
- CSR seeks to bridge this by making the arguments for / against no-platforming specific to each event. It was expressed that it would be easier to win support on this basis.
- Liberation groups can clash. This may not be the case in York, but it apparently happens a lot on other campuses. Networks can feel that guests invited by other networks are oppressive and vice versa. Example from the meeting: the recent debate over the relationship between sexual assault and immigration could lead to disputes between women’s and BME groups; or between BME and LGBTQ groups on issues of religious freedom.
- Lastly, within lib groups, it can be hard to reach consensus on what constitutes hate speech. In some LGBTQ groups, there're regular debates over the word ‘queer’, the status of drag can be just as divisive, as can the definition of gender and non-binary inclusion. Finding consensus on these issues among members of any liberation group could be difficult.
There still needs to be lots of details added to flesh out our understanding of CSR, and future meetings will re-visit the policy to add the needed level of detail so that we're really prepared for future events.
Thanks to everyone who participated in the meeting last week, especially the network members who offered to speak on what is always a hard subject to discuss.