Gavin Williamson’s “free speech” idea for universities hurts BAME and LGBT+

Pasqueline Agostinho, is a member of the YCL’s London branch

Gavin Williamson, the MP for education, has uploaded a 42-page paper on free speech at universities titled, “Higher Education: free speech and academic freedom”, with 37 pages of information about strengthening so-called free speech, or rather 37 pages of pure vagueness and delusion. In his introduction, he talks about the development of “freedom”, the prioritisation of “emotional safety” over free speech and people expelled from universities as a result of their views because of “the rise of intolerance and cancel culture”. As a result of this, a “Free Speech Champion in the Office for Students” will be established. 

But the freedom he talks about seems to favour right-wing/capitalist interests. What does Williamson mean by “emotional safety”? Is he talking about safe spaces for marginalised groups as a protection against discrimination? Is this so-called “free speech” better than that? If it is, then it can be argued that this sense of “free speech” isn’t free but rather right-wing speech made to desensitise oppressed groups like the BAME and LGBT+ community. But this is exactly why he launched this campaign. In the paper, Williamson mentioned: 

“For every Ngole, Carl or Todd whose story is known, evidence suggests there are many more who have felt they had to keep silent, withheld research or believe they have faced active discrimination in appointment or promotion because of views they have expressed.”

Who is Ngole, Carl and Todd?

Felix Ngole is a 40-year-old student who was initially expelled from the University of Sheffield after he claimed that gay people are an “abomination”. He brought a legal action against the university backed up by his anti-LGBT+ group “Christian Concern” and he won the case as the expulsion was ruled unlawful. 

Noah Carl was sacked from Cambridge University after he was found out to have links to far-right extremists. Matthew Bullock, the master of St. Edmund’s College in Cambridge: “The panel (investigation panel) found that in the course of pursuing this problematic work, Dr Carl had collaborated with a number of individuals who were known to hold extremist views.” Additionally, Dr Carl is a believer of eugenics, as he spoke twice at the London Conference Intelligence, which was a private conference on human intelligence where race and intelligence and eugenics was discussed. Dr Carl is associated with the journal, Intelligence, a journal that promotes racist pseudo-science.

To Gavin Williamson, a crackdown on discrimination to protect marganalised groups is an attack on free speech. It is not “free speech” to let bigots like Ngole, Carl and Todd threaten the safety of gay people, transgender people and minorities. That is called “hate speech”. Williamson should be encouraging zero tolerance on discrimination, verbally and physically, for universities, except he is doing the opposite in the name of so-called “free speech”. This is why his reforms on “free speech” hurts the BAME and LGBT+ community.

The YCL’s Student Officer Peter Stoddart has submitted a statement in response:

“We have to rise up through the midst of these measures in an attempt to unite class forces against the far right, who are building a presence on our campuses, and across our society.”

Pasqueline Agostinho

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