University reaffirms support for safe spaces but rejects ‘illegal’ No Platforming

Eddie Spence 11 January 2018

Cambridge have reaffirmed there support for safe spaces in evidence submitted to a parliamentary inquiry, but have warned students over the potentially “illegal” practice of no-platforming.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights’ launched an inquiry last October into whether free speech was being suppressed in Universities, and to what role the Office for Students should play in protecting it. Cambridge was one of four institutions to submit written evidence to the committee, which will also be investigating the role of Prevent in the context of freedom of speech.

In their statement, the University announced that they “support unequivocally the right of students to meet in safe spaces,” while citing the role of CUSU sabbatical officers in highlighting “that the existence of these groups and campaigns plays an important role in aiding the retention and supporting the progression of underrepresented groups”

However, the statement also reaffirmed the University’s belief that “the concepts of safe spaces and of no-platforming are distinct,” and noted that “if no-platforming (such as preventing others from attending or expressing their views within the law) occurs within a safe space environment, this could be contrary to the University’s statement on freedom of speech and may even be illegal.”

The inquiry into freedom of speech is still ongoing, having already received evidence from Helen Belcher, director of Trans Media Watch, and Peter Tatchell, a LGBT rights campaigner who has been subject to several no platforming attempts – notably at Canterbury Christ Church university, when the students Unions LGBT+ officer Fran Cowling derided him as a racist and a transphobe. The inquiry’s next hearing is in a weeks time, and will hear evidence from ex-CUSU President and current NUS VP Amatey Doku, among others. Doku has previously voiced his support for the concept of safe spaces.

In a comment, current CUSU President Daisy Eyre said: “We are really happy to see that the University has defended students’ rights to meet in ‘safe spaces’. This really is an example of the University listening to students and I am so proud to feel that our discussions with the University about the value of safe spaces have impacted on their submission to the committee. We now have to hope that the OFS has listened!”