Student Rights at the University of Newcastle

On Wednesday, I had the pleasure of speaking at the University of Newcastle at an event organised by the Atheist and Secular Humanists Society.

It was a great opportunity to discuss extremism and free speech on campus, and to showcase our work.

Since starting at Student Rights, I’ve travelled across the country, speaking to students about extreme groups operating at UK universities and the dire consequences this can have on campus cohesion and wider society.

The presentation touched on all forms of extremism including far-right, Christian and Islamist ideologies.

We also want to encourage students to do something about this problem, to stand up and challenge extreme and intolerant speakers when they are invited onto campus.

Our solution to extremism isn’t to simply ban people, but to open up events, balance platforms and to get students discussing ideas.

We want to see hateful and intolerant ideas challenged. Students are best placed to do this, as they can attend events and stand up to homophobic or antisemitic speakers simply by asking questions, ridiculing bigotry and countering bad ideas with more logical ones.

At the University of Newcastle, it was encouraging to see students keen to engage in debate. Too often extreme narratives dominate campuses and students feel unable to oppose them.

What’s also encouraging is that these students want to do this in a respectful manner and reject disruptive protests that can intimidate other students and drive speakers off campus.

Touring universities has been a great opportunity to listen to students, and to hear first-hand their experiences of extremism and marginalisation.

So many students are dismayed by the current situation, where student unions use their powers to ban music, newspapers and speakers from campus.

They believe they should have the opportunity to hear different opinions and make their own choices, and to deny them this only insults their intelligence.

We are keen to engage with more students across the country. We want to use these events as an opportunity for students to debate some of the big issues surrounding free speech and extremism on campus.

If other student societies would be interested in hosting a similar event please get in touch – sign up to our weekly newsletter here.

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