YUSU Presidential Candidate Questionnaire: Millie Beach

We asked YUSU Presidential Candidates about their opinions on key issues in free expression and speech at the University. Millie Beach (http://elections.yusu.org/manifesto/11342) replied:

Question 1: Under what circumstances should external speakers, or members of panels, be denied access to campus or the right to speak?

I believe that the student union should encourage freedom of speech as it is a fundamental human right (see Human Rights Act of 1998). On a more personal level, I feel that universities have historically been a centre of learning and discussion and just because you disagree with an opinion, doesn’t mean that the speaker doesn’t have a right to voice it. However, I feel like we need to carefully consider on a case by case basis whether speakers are allowed to speak if they are encouraging ideas that incite terrorism, violence or are against criminal law. I do feel as though we need to improve the safeguarding facilities put in place, including not hosting these events in close proximity to accommodation, including break out rooms, and working with Part time officers to support anyone who may feel discriminated against.

Question 2: Under what circumstances should the contents, or presentation, of courses be changed in the interests of student welfare?

One of the reasons that York is continually successful academically is because of the breadth and challenging nature of university courses. Therefore, I believe that the contents of courses should not be reduced to protect student welfare. However, there should be a more developed system in place for allowing students to discuss issues with seminar tutors and lecturers, in order for academic staff to make allowances for them. Despite this, I think the university can always consider ways to develop the breadth and diversity of a course to be more inclusive, and would work to encourage this if I were president.

Question 3: What facilities should be made available at the University to students who feel threatened by some views, opinions or debates to remove themselves from environments in which those are present?

A breakout room from the event so that students attending can leave for a while if the event becomes a trigger.

An opportunity for students to challenge ideas while not having to attend the event, perhaps through a spokesperson or through the chair.

Good signposting for any students who feel threatened by the debate.

Question 4: When is it appropriate to withdraw a media article, or prevent it from being published, in the interests of student welfare?

I believe that YUSU should reduce the amount of censorship currently operating with student media, they are award winning for a reason! However, if an article will have a directly significant negative and harmful impact on the welfare of the individual then it would be necessary to work out a compromise. The media should be focusing on critiques of professionalism rather than personal attacks. Name and blame rather than name and shame.

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YUSU Presidential Candidate Questionnaire: Ciaran Morrissey

We asked YUSU Presidential Candidates about their opinions on key issues in free expression and speech at the University. Ciaran Morrissey (http://elections.yusu.org/manifesto/11361) replied:

Question 1: Under what circumstances should external speakers, or members of panels, be denied access to campus or the right to speak?

When the speaker in question can be reasonably expected to try and cause physical harm to members of the student body and when the speaker in question has repeatedly refused to share a panel or platform with an individual with differing viewpoints.

There’s no right to a platform, and societies should be able to withdraw platforms for whatever reason they see fit. Nobody has any right to an uncontested platform, or to airtime in student media. However, this does not mean that speakers should be actively prevented from speaking, once invited, by other members of the student body. We should encourage groups to air their grievances about particular speakers, but this should be just a component of the wider campus conversation. 

Question 2: Under what circumstances should the contents, or presentation, of courses be changed in the interests of student welfare?

I don’t think the contents or presentation of courses should be changed in the interest of student welfare unless the course is compulsory and there is medical evidence that studying it in its current form causes tangible detrimental effects to student mental health. In all other cases, I believe it should be up to the lecturers and lecturers alone.

However, I would support efforts to signpost or offer content warnings on module sign-up forms, so that students can make an informed decision as to the modules they will study. This allows students to avoid courses that they know may have particularly triggering elements, while allowing lecturers to maintain full discretion over the modules that they teach. Other than that, student welfare is not enhanced by sheltering or bowdlerisation. University is a place to face and examine the world in its raw, ugly detail, and to take measures to oppose this is to risk compromising academic freedom. 

Question 3: What facilities should be made available at the University to students who feel threatened by some views, opinions or debates to remove themselves from environments in which those are present?

The University should provide functioning doorways and navigable paths to allow students to remove themselves from environments in which views they find disagreeable are being discussed or argued. Again, I think that if a debate has a particularly triggering nature, then this should be highlighted, but once these elements are highlighted, the decision to attend, and any effects on mental welbeing that may result from this, are the responsibility of the student, not the speaker, nor the society hosting, nor YUSU, nor the University. 

Question 4: When is it appropriate to withdraw a media article, or prevent it from being published, in the interests of student welfare?

It is appropriate to withdraw or prevent the publication of articles if they are libellous, if they directly attempt to smear one or more members of the student body, or if the article itself can be considered a personal attack. However, it is important to note that publication of an article does not imply endorsement from the University, YUSU, or any of the media societies, and so it may be important to more directly signpost this, to conclusively shift responsibility to the writer of the article. I’m not convinced that YUSU’s media guidelines need to be any stricter than the law on this matter. I would add that if a student has written an article that can be reasonably assumed to result in a large backlash against them, they should be warned of this possibility, but they should be allowed to publish regardless.

YUSU Presidential Candidate Questionnaire: Ananna Zaman

We asked YUSU Presidential Candidates about their opinions on key issues in free expression and speech at the University. Ananna Zaman (http://elections.yusu.org/manifesto/11310) replied:

Question 1: Under what circumstances should external speakers, or members of panels, be denied access to campus or the right to speak?

If there is a threat to student welfare, whether that be mental or physical.

Question 2: Under what circumstances should the contents, or presentation, of courses be changed in the interests of student welfare?

If the content of the course is triggering to individuals who might suffer from anxiety or PTSD to the point where they are unable to focus and engage with their studies there should be warnings. It’s courteous of academia to take into account the individual needs of students who pay 27 grand odd to be educated here.

Question 3: What facilities should be made available at the University to students who feel threatened by some views, opinions or debates to remove themselves from environments in which those are present?

There should be physical spaces for liberation networks and anyone who feels threatened or deeply upset by these views and it should be personalised and turned into a community space where they can go without fear of harassment and confidence they will be treated with respect.

Question 4: When is it appropriate to withdraw a media article, or prevent it from being published, in the interests of student welfare?

It should only happen if there is a legal basis but I am aware though that sometimes things are pulled without a legal basis.

YUSU Presidential Candidate Questionnaire: Oliver Wilson

We asked YUSU Presidential Candidates about their opinions on key issues in free expression and speech at the University. Oliver Wilson (http://elections.yusu.org/manifesto/11287) said:

Question 1: Under what circumstances should external speakers, or members of panels, be denied access to campus or the right to speak?

I passionately believe in the right to free speech and freedom of expression. University campuses are best placed to expose students to a variety of competing viewpoints and ideas, and this position as a facilitator of debate and discussion should be championed. However, Universities are also an inherently curated experience – we don’t have modules on every fringe theory – and so those invited to speak at the University should, at a minimum, have views that have reasonable academic value.

Question 2: Under what circumstances should the contents, or presentation, of courses be changed in the interests of student welfare?

The University has existing rigorous and thorough procedure for vetting and assessing the academic content of courses and modules. It’s important that module convenors and students feel as though they are able to include all the relevant information in a course. I foresee no realistic situation in which the contents of a course could significantly negatively impact student welfare. However, as a representative of students to the University, I’d be happy to resolve any conflict should one arise.

Question 3: What facilities should be made available at the University to students who feel threatened by some views, opinions or debates to remove themselves from environments in which those are present?

I’m committed to an open and accessible Students’ Union; that’s why I’m going to give out free tea, every Monday of term, in the Library. Should any student feel threatened by views at university, I would be happy to lend an impartial, helpful ear to their concerns. Given diversity of opinions at York, and the different circumstances in which problems arise, I think that this is best tackled on a case-by-case basis.

Question 4: When is it appropriate to withdraw a media article, or prevent it from being published, in the interests of student welfare?

I’ve pledged to respond to all Freedom of Information Act requests promptly and fully, in line with non-exempt organisations. A free and effective campus press is hugely important in holding both the University and the Students’ Union to account, and must be protected. YUSU should hold oversight of campus media organisations, but in recent years the frequency and extent to which this oversight has been used has strayed increasingly closer to censorship.

YUSU Presidential Candidate Questionnaire: JJ Wilson

We asked YUSU Presidential Candidates about their opinions on key issues in free expression and speech at the University. JJ Wilson (http://elections.yusu.org/manifesto/11303) said:

Question 1: Under what circumstances should external speakers, or members of panels, be denied access to campus or the right to speak?

When they are promoting active hate speech.

Question 2: Under what circumstances should the contents, or presentation, of courses be changed in the interests of student welfare?

When it actively and heinously offends students on the course to the point where the material can be deemed unsuitable.

Question 3: What facilities should be made available at the University to students who feel threatened by some views, opinions or debates to remove themselves from environments in which those are present?

A new phone-line which will allow them to discuss their view in a private and safe environment.

Question 4: When is it appropriate to withdraw a media article, or prevent it from being published, in the interests of student welfare?

When the article actively and heinously offends the audience.

YUSU Presidential Candidate Questionnaire: Habib Nasser

We asked YUSU Presidential Candidates about their opinions on key issues in free expression and speech at the University. Habib Nasser (http://elections.yusu.org/manifesto/11308) said:

Question 1: Under what circumstances should external speakers, or members of panels, be denied access to campus or the right to speak?

The university should be a place for debate and learning, and the free expression of controversial opinions is part of this. YUSU should support societies that want to bring in speakers for debates. However, that does not mean that the university doesn’t need to consider its responsibility to be aware of the power dynamic it creates when giving a speaker a platform. Where controversial speakers are invited, we should work to also support the voices of those holding opposing opinions – through creating panels and allowing extended question and answer time for debate. Given that the campus is a place of residence, there is also a place for trigger/content warnings and some place for censorship in the case where hate speech poses a threat to the physical or mental health of students. The wellbeing of students is paramount.

Question 2: Under what circumstances should the contents, or presentation, of courses be changed in the interests of student welfare?

The academic content of a course should reflect the reality of the scholarly field of that subject, and at times this will inevitably involve some material that can be considered to pose a threat to student welfare. Therefore the priority in protecting the interests of student welfare should be in the presentation of the course. As with debate on campus, there is a place for trigger and content warnings where the content of a course is not explicit in the module title and description already. Also, with regard to the inclusion of views that are offensive, what is important is that these are not falsely presented as the only view. This might mean, for example, including contents of a course to include a greater range of sources.

Question 3: What facilities should be made available at the University to students who feel threatened by some views, opinions or debates to remove themselves from environments in which those are present?

So that it is possible for students who feel threatened by some views, opinions or debates to remove themselves it is important that none of these ideas are expressed in spaces that it is impossible to avoid. For example, an outside space on campus that students need to pass through to access their lectures and seminars of course wouldn’t be an appropriate place to have a speaker on a loudspeaker.

Also, there should always be an easily accessible complaint contact for everyone at the university. It is very important to report any incidence where someone feels threatened. This should lead to a serious discussion about whether that idea is reasonable to express in a public space, should be expressed only in a space sufficiently private that listeners are empowered with a decision to receive it or not, or if that view is directly threatening such that it should not be voiced at all. The university should make it as easy as possible to contact the specific staff member(s) relative to the complaint who in turn should be readily trained to deal with the different situations that might arise from welfare and legal points of view.

Question 4: When is it appropriate to withdraw a media article, or prevent it from being published, in the interests of student welfare?

I believe that if an article contains any information that might put somebody in real danger (in terms of their physical or mental health) then it shouldn’t be published. However, the media should be an outlet for expression and discussion of a wide range of topics so articles shouldn’t be censored if they just offend people. I love the mix of campus, national and international news that York’s media outlets provide and students should be allowed to talk about these issues even if they might be deemed as controversial. Also, the media should be able to scrutinise students, officers and staff members and hold them accountable to their actions that directly affect the student or university and YUSU policy.