Following a few incidents during my time at the London School of Economics (LSE), it has become clear to me that Free Speech is not something readily endorsed at The School, although they wouldn't want you to catch on. In my first year there was a motion passed at a Union General Meeting (UGM) to ban Robin Thicke's song 'Blurred Lines' from the Students' Union (SU); the song could no longer be played at SU nights or in the SU eateries for fear that it promoted misogyny and could be seen as apologising for rape. While the song may promote such views, banning it from the campus entirely is surely not the best way to tackle the issue; we're adults, why can't we sit down as such and have a conversation? In my mind, the policy promoted by the SU, 'if you ignore it for long enough, it will go away', is an attitude we all know not to be true.
Following that display of censorship, an article in the Students' Union Newspaper, The Beaver, was censored by the Students' Union for 'breaking byelaws'. In actual fact, all the paper had done was write a short article describing how Peter Crouch had endorsed one of the candidates standing for election; this wasn't breaking news for the majority of the student population who use social media.
Most recently I have written an article for The Beaver on some research carried out by the Free Speech University Ranking (FSUR) that labelled LSE as one of the worst universities in the country for free speech as a 'slew of censorious actions in recent years' has created a 'collectively hostile environment for free speech'.
However, the main issue at hand here regards the LSESU 'Free Speech' Society, which is actually called 'Speakeasy'. A student has submitted a UGM motion to ban the society; arguing that they are self-important and ill informed. The proposer alleged, in an article that featured in this week's edition of The Beaver, that at best, Speakeasy are 'naïve to the limits on freedom of expression. At worst they pretty much endorse hate speech (which is illegal).'
The proposer claimed that Speakeasy's self-importance is one reason why the student body should vote to ban the society, claiming that they 'seem to be looking for a victim card to play'. Sadly, my experience tells me this is the case for a majority of the student population at LSE. My work for the Newspaper has perhaps made this more obvious to me than the average LSE student, but it all too often comes across as though individuals on this campus want to find a reason to be marginalised or offended, a mind-set that is exacerbated by the cotton-wooling of the SU and a mind-set that does not stand them in good stead for life outside of this over-protective bubble of censorship; a world many of these individuals will be entering come July and graduation.
The fact students found the need to even form a free speech society begins to highlight just how bad the situation has become on LSE campus. The SU is a paternalistic force not to be reckoned with, if you don't like something, let the SU know and they'll ban it (and believe me they will, last year's ban on chairs on a Wednesday night may have been the most amusing example of the ridiculousness that is the LSE). The SU really are our over-protective parents, keeping us away from anything that may potentially offend our little ears or, god forbid, provide us with some food for thought. Why would we want anyone to debate ideas, that's just bloody ridiculous?
When I chose to study at LSE I anticipated vibrant debate and a rainbow of political ideologies, all coming together to discuss our different beliefs (in a respectful way of course). But sadly this is not the case, oh no, any chance of alternative, perhaps controversial opinions are nipped well and truly in the bud, before any spark of discussion can rear its head; anything outside of the status quo seems to come with a trigger warning and offence is taken left, right and centre.
Quite frankly the whole situation is absolutely ridiculous. If the SU think it's in the best interests of the student body to ban anything that may cause us the slightest bit of upset, The Sun and The Daily Mail included, then I believe they are completely misguided. Where is this going to leave students when they are sat at their desks in Goldman Sachs or Merrill Lynch? Who's going to protect them then from the glimpse of a nipple in The Sun, or a song that portrays women as sexual objects? The FSUR described it as an 'endemic of campus censorship' and the SU are now trying to censor the cure. In all honesty I think we (as a student body) need to grow a slightly thicker skin, because the banning of a Free Speech society is completely infantile, and I know I'm not alone in thinking it.