Protest for free speech outside NUS offices

Yesterday, Student Rights attended a protest outside the National Union of Students (NUS) office in London which rallied various free speech groups in opposition to the increasing censorship seen on university campuses.

This has included human rights activist Maryam Namazie being banned from Warwick, as well as attempts to stop her speaking at Goldsmiths by members of the Islamic Society.

Student Rights also reported on Macer Gifford, who fought alongside the Kurds against Islamic State, being barred from speaking by University College London Student Union.

Many of these decisions have been taken by individual student unions. However, NUS officials have also been in the media spotlight recently after snubbing prominent gay rights and anti-racism campaigners.

Last month, NUS LGBT Officer Fran Cowling refused to share a platform with Peter Tatchell citing her belief that he was “racist” and “transphobic”.

This was shortly followed by the story of Hope Not Hate Director Nick Lowles allegedly being stopped from speaking at an NUS anti-racism event on the grounds some members of the NUS believed he has “Islamophobic” views.

Tatchell told protestors at the rally:“…we are all united in our agreement that free speech should be defended and that intolerant ideas should be challenged and protested against, in ways that are compatible with free speech.”

Namazie also addressed the crowd denouncing the “disgusting rotten identity politics” which resulted in the Goldsmith’s Feminist Society taking the side of those who tried to shut down her speech.

Student Rights National Organiser Gray Sergeant, who spoke at protest, echoed calls for extremism to be challenged on-campus by students.

He also criticised NUS officials for refusing to share a platform with people like Peter Tatchell while repeatedly campaigning alongside extreme groups like CAGE.

While the situation on campuses may seem bleak at the moment, it was encouraging to see so many activists and students committed to defending free speech at universities.

It is also great to see campaigns like Right2Debate calling for balanced debates to ensure extreme and intolerant ideas are tackled; an initiative Student Rights is enthusiastically endorsing.

With the NUS standing shoulder to shoulder with groups like CAGE, and student unions banning those they disagree with, there is no doubt that changing the culture on campus will be an uphill struggle.

However, Thursday’s protest showed there is a growing opposition to a climate in which extremists do not face challenge, while the voices of those who seek to oppose them are supressed.

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