Last Thursday I was almost ejected from a meeting because I moved my arms. I know it sounds farcical, but it's true. It's now been reported in the Huffington Post, Mail, Telegraph, Independent, Express, Newsweek, I could go on. But here I'd like to set the record straight: What happened was a gross abuse of our Safe Space Policy.
First, someone was making a speech and referenced an open letter to Edinburgh University Students' Association (EUSA), where I am an elected Vice President, and claimed we had not responded. I raised my arms in disagreement, as we had responded to the writers almost immediately. Then, nothing. The meeting continued, seemingly without any cause for concern.
About 40 minutes later, I made a passionate speech against BDS, the motion for EUSA to boycott Israeli products, companies, and academic institutions. The main point of my speech was to highlight an already growing problem of anti-Semitism in the student movement, that BDS has proved harmful and divisive on other campuses. It was only after that speech that someone made a safe space complaint about me for what happened at the start of the meeting.
The attendees then had to vote on whether I should be allowed to stay for the rest of the meeting. Thankfully, they voted for me to stay. Though I will always defend the concept of safe space, I cannot help but think that the complaint against me was a political move.
During my speech, while I listed potential risks of BDS for Jewish and Israeli students on campus, there were many who were shaking their heads. Yet later in the meeting someone threatened me with a second complaint because I was shaking my head as someone spoke. Safe space cannot become a tool for the hard left to manipulate proceedings when they disagree, something I'm certain happened in this instance.
Maybe people should be less concerned with my arm movements and more concerned that EUSA just passed policy to support BDS.— Imo Wilson EUSA VPAA (@eusavpaa) April 1, 2016
Safe Space is there to protect free speech, by making sure that everyone's voices and opinions are heard, and especially that students from marginalised groups feel comfortable contributing. It's the student union way of making politics more accessible, and trying to steer it away the 'old boys club' ways of the past - and it works.
The underlying benefits of safe space come from people knowing that racist, ableist, homophobic, sexist, and transphobic language is unacceptable, and it leads to more constructive and respectful debate. ArmGate, as my friends are calling this bizarre incident, was in fact the only time an official safe space complaint has been made at a student council meeting in my time as a Vice President at EUSA, a testament to the policy's success.
By supporting safe space, I support free speech.
Twitter keyboard warriors have been quick to turn this into an attack on 'soft millennials', but ultimately, students voted for me to stay in the meeting. Common sense and free speech ultimately prevailed, and what happened to me was a glitch in an otherwise important, inclusive and functional policy. I'm not afraid to stand up to the tweeter who claimed I was worse than Putin and Assad combined, and I certainly won't apologise for defending discrimination-free spaces.