Today I am especially proud to be a part of Brunel. Last night our students organised a mass walk out of the 50th anniversary "Big Debate", in protest of the Universities decision to invite Katie Hopkins onto the Panel.
Having launched its 50th anniversary celebrations, The University have scheduled an array of events and showcases to recognise 50 years of contribution to education and society. As part of the celebrations, a number of high profile intellectual debates across a number of disciplines; including one on the future of the welfare state had been organised. These debates were kicked off on Monday 23rd November with controversial celebrity big brother runner up Katie Hopkins.
The inclusion of Ms Hopkins has been met with wide spread outcry from the student body and the Students' Union.
It is important to note that the conversation at no point has been about banning Ms Hopkins from speaking on campus, or denying her right to speak. It is instead about saying it is distasteful and incongruous for our University, as part of a 50th celebration event, to provide a platform to someone who adds nothing to the intellectual or academic discourse; and an individual who publicly utters such overtly bigoted views.
In short, we have a far higher opinion of our institution than Katie Hopkins and don't believe the 50th Anniversary celebration should be summed up by the appearance of someone who has no association with Brunel, and provides no valuable intellectual insight.
This leads us onto a wider question.
In the current social media climate, where everyone is provided an online platform to speak, do we need to have a serious conversation, as a student movement and a society, on how we deal with online trolls?
These are people who make their living by deliberately saying belligerent and offensive statements. Katie Hopkins is the physical manifestation of these trolls and we should not be providing the oxygen to her fire.
So we have to ask ourselves:
Is inviting someone who has no intellectual or political credibility providing any valuable intellectual nuance to debates in our society?
At a time when we must be discussing how we do more for disabled people, is this a valuable addition to debate?
In an age where thousands of refugees are dying in the Mediterranean Sea, attempting to escape persecution, is this a valuable addition to the debate?
The answers are simple and clear; and were answered by our students last night. Their opposition (if I may speak for them) was one of taste and not of free speech. Because it is in fact patronising to have us bullied into providing someone with a seat in our house.
Rights go hand in hand with responsibilities; you have the right to fart in public lift, it doesn't mean you should exercise it.
Needlessly to say, I stand in full solidarity with those that chose to partake in the action, respectfully voicing their discontent. They have made me proud to be their representative.