Shopping Cart -

Your cart is currently empty.
Continue Shopping
This website use cookies and similar technologies to improve the site and to provide customised content and advertising. By using this site, you agree to this use. To learn more, including how to change your cookie settings, please view our Cookie Policy
Pocketmags Digital Magazines
Pocketmags Digital Magazines
   You are currently viewing the United Kingdom version of the site.
Would you like to switch to your local site?
Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > Mar-18 > The truth about snowflakes and censors

The truth about snowflakes and censors

Two student journalists on whether free speech is really threatened on campus

The British reporter Michela Wrong has made a career from telling inconvenient truths. Her 2005 book I Didn’t Do It for You narrated the story of Eritrea’s bumpy journey towards independence, among an international community that apparently couldn’t care less. In 2009, It’s Our Turn to Eat turned an unsparing eye on corruption in present-day Kenya. Neither book can be bought in the countries they depict. It’s not that they’re banned as such—it’s just that, as she explained recently, “no bookseller will sell them.”

In a place like Eritrea, which has been called the world’s biggest prison because of its human rights record, having limits placed on your intellectual freedom is no great surprise—perhaps even a source of pride. By contrast, the University of Bristol is not somewhere that Wrong expected to confront issues of free speech. In November 2017, however, she was invited to address a student society there, only to find out that the organisation was required to fill out a background check, confirming that she conformed with the university’s “safe space” policies.

Wrong turned the invitation down. She explained in a letter— subsequently published—that she took “exception to the entire notion of ‘safe spaces’ and the practice of ‘no-platforming.’” “I am more aware than most of the way such policies distort our understanding of the world and silence informed debate,” she wrote.

“Why on earth would I endorse that system at home?”

Barely a month goes by without headlines about assaults on freedom of speech in universities. The issue has been particularly volatile in the United States, where students have protested vociferously about everything from talks by white nationalists to “cultural appropriation” (over insufficiently “authentic” Asian cuisine at Oberlin College in Ohio). Criticism of the Black Lives Matter movement in a campus newspaper at Wesleyan University in Connecticut sparked a campaign to withdraw its funding.

Events by right-wing provocateurs such as Milo Yiannopoulos have been particular flash points. His planned appearance last year at the University of California in Berkeley was cancelled after it ran into demonstrations, prompting the newly inaugurated President Donald Trump to scream “NO FEDERAL FUNDS?” on Twitter, in supposed defence of free speech. Trump had his own reasons for stirring things up, of course, but in Gallup polling last autumn—reported in the Economist—some 42 per cent of students at Yale said they felt “uncomfortable” sharing opinions on politics, race, religion and gender.

Purchase options below
Find the complete article and many more in this issue of Prospect Magazine - Mar-18
If you own the issue, Login to read the full article now.
Single Issue - Mar-18
Or 499 points
Annual Digital Subscription
Only £ 4.00 per issue
Or 3999 points

View Issues

About Prospect Magazine

In Prospect’s March issue: A series of writers turn their thoughts to the developing war over words in the UK and the US. Lionel Shriver, Afua Hirsch, Simon Lancaster, Hugh Tomlinson, Tom Clark and two students ask if free expression is truly compromised? What’s really going on in our universities? And what do voters think? Elsewhere in the issue: Michael Ignatieff questions why today’s left-wing leaders can’t live up to the high mark set by FDR, Sameer Rahim shows how western powers have been trying to dictate what Islam should be, and Mary Beard asks “How do we look?” as our perceptions of what is beautiful have changes over the centuries.