Last week, Elliot Miller, the new National Organiser at Student Rights, led a ‘Challenging Extremism Workshop’ session at the University of Manchester.
Hosted by students on 20th October, the workshop consisted of a brief presentation about the different types of extreme speakers and groups which target campuses, as well as the pros and cons of the government’s Prevent strategy.
Conversations focused on groups including the neo-Nazi National Action movement, which seeks to target universities with racist material.
The group also discussed Islamist groups, as well as organisations which campaign on behalf of convicted terrorists such as CAGE, and looked at how these groups have been invited onto campuses on numerous occasions in recent years.
Following Elliot’s talk, the group used the rest of the session to focus on how best to prepare for when an extreme or intolerant speaker is invited on to campus.
This included ways to alert the university and students’ union about the past comments and associations of a speaker, as well as ideas for grassroots mobilisation at events to challenge speakers and campaign for balanced platforms.
Many of the students present highlighted the importance of spreading awareness of speakers, and were keen to hand out material on campus or post information on social media should an extreme speaker be invited to Manchester.
The group also had a lively discussion about the limits of free speech on campus, debating when to draw the line when it comes to hate speech and incitement to violence.
Lawrence Rosenberg, President of the University of Manchester’s Jewish Society said:
“The talk went incredibly well. Students engaged in a difficult conversation which they all agreed they took a lot away from. We look forward to having Student Rights again in Manchester to raise awareness on such important topics as Extremism and the Prevent Strategy.”
One thing is clear from this event – when it comes to combatting extremism on campus, students are key to challenging such narratives, and it is vitally important they have the information they need to do this effectively.
At present, too many student leaders are still turning a blind eye to the issue, or even working alongside organisations which are part of the problem, as with the relationship between the NUS and CAGE.
Here at Student Rights, we are looking to increase the number of events we address on-campus to help push back against this trend, so if you are keen to learn more about the problems posed by extremism, please get in touch.