I had a discussion with the University of Bristol Feminist Society Social Media Officer Francesca Collins on the NoneOfTheAbove YouTube channel on 4/11/15 about whether it would be right to “no platform” Milo Yiannopoulos from a deabte on 20/11/15 at the University of Bristol.
The video (below) now has almost 150,000 views after Francesca Collins abandoned the conversation after five minutes of what was set to be a talk lasting around an hour and a half.
Below are excerpts from an interview I conducted with Bristol University LGBT+ President Charlie Oxborough in response to the video. She also defends “no-platforming” Yiannopoulos.
What made you feel compelled to address this issue after the initial FemSoc video?
Initially I stayed out of the online arguments for two reasons. Firstly, arguing online is really not my thing. I’ve rarely seen those back-and-forth paragraph arguments end with a mutual agreement, other than to disagree. Secondly, our society strives to offer a safe and welcoming environment for our members. The verbal backlash that FemSoc received after being the first to speak out against the event made me realise I could be putting a lot on the line by opening up our society to similar comments.However, I briefly mentioned the event to an individual who was in favour of the talk, and within two minutes had made him entirely reconsider his position. I saw that the video had been unsuccessful. I knew I have an argument to make, and perhaps more than a brick wall is listening, so it then felt irrational to not stand up for transgender students being in my position. I didn’t want the online video to be the last voice speaking out against the event; I have a lot of respect for Francesca Collins for speaking out against such a backlash, but it didn’t do the opposition justice, let’s say.
So perhaps it would be best to pick up from where she left. What did you think of the view that Francesca Collins’ argument was merely in favour of students’ comfort rather than their safety?
I think that fundamentally this has very little to do with intricate details and interpretations of the Safe Space Policy. However, it’s certainly not just down to students’ comfort. The use of transphobic speech boils down to being hate speech – something that is generally rejected in society. Throughout all the discussions and arguments, you have to wonder whether the event would even have been considered in the first place if Milo were to be an outspoken racist, or homophobe. The university, and I am sure the Journalism Society, would undoubtedly ban such a speaker from holding an event – hate speech of those forms are wholly unacceptable. Yet in this case, with transphobic speech, we talk about ‘comfort’ and ‘safety’, as if this is something that transgender people should still have to put up with.
But doesn’t it do a massive disservice to transgender students in the long run because these opinions do exist in society. Won’t they be awoken to a much harsher reality later on in life if they are temporarily shielded from such opinions during their time at university?
Absolutely not. Should we stop shielding BME students from racism at university because they will still face it at some point in their life?
Racism exists, homophobia exists, transphobia exists, sexism exists. All and any forms of discrimination will always exist, in some place or another. Does it belong in an educational establishment? Hell no.
Why not have racists speak at university if a society wishes to hear their views? Isn’t the only way to truly defeat these ideologies to discredit them on an intellectual level?
Two reasons, really. The first is that there is really no argument worth having with these people (in this case you make, racists). If you think you can convince a preaching racist in a discussion, online or in person, you are sadly mistaken. They may not hold those views forever, they may have some moment of enlightenment, but it won’t be on their platform when talking to a crowd – it won’t be when a student with a notepad asks them some pressing questions for which they’ve recited their answers 100 times before.
Secondly, we don’t know who they are talking to. Everyone at some point in their life (admit it) has doubted the average intelligence of the general public. Aside from that, the unfortunate truth is that many people grow up with harmful ideologies, many fall into vulnerability and are waiting for someone to confirm their opinions, to tell them they’re right. The most harmful groups in the world are incredibly, incredibly clever at recruitment and convincing others of their ideologies. Milo Yiannopoulos is not at their level (bless him), he doesn’t have much of an agenda going on aside from troll journalism, but we don’t need a speaker like him to encourage anyone holding discriminatory opinions. Hate speech affirms opinions, and that can and does lead to dangerous actions.
What right is it of the students’ union to tell the Bristol University Journalism Society who they can and can’t listen to, providing that the speaker acts within the confines of the law?
Well, transphobic hate speech is not within the confines of the law. The University of Bristol Journalism Society and the Bristol SU literally carry the university’s name and reputation in their title. The university and union condemn any form of discrimination, supposedly. So when an event is held by any society it is an event tied to the union and in part the university. And obviously, then, this links back to those pesky ‘no hate speech’ rules.
In that case shouldn’t Milo Yiannopoulos be prosecuted?
Are you asking me if people who break the law should be prosecuted? Yes they should.
Well, do you think Milo Yiannopoulos has broken the law?
We all know that online comments unfortunately rarely result in consequences.
Under the definition of transphobic hate crime, he has.
It’s worth adding that I do think the union have a right to ban speakers, as many universities do, to speak up for those students who do not feel like they can speak up themselves. Do you think many, if any, transgender students would comment on Facebook events like the JournoSoc one to voice their opinion? Look at the comments Francesca received for being a feminist. I hope that the union does represent all students, not just those who shout the loudest.