“What’s up with Free Speech?” Newcastle students debate


Sometimes, getting into a debate just can’t be helped. Living with housemates, having discussion-based seminars, spending Christmas with old-fashioned elderly relatives; we constantly find ourselves in tense deliberations, voicing controversial opinions. The reason we can do this, and could on an even bigger platform if we wish? Free speech.

The brand new Office for Students are all for it, and from April will be fining any university that stands in its way. Sounds just fine, until we let the students of Newcastle have their free speech-driven say.

I took to campus and approached a group, asking them what they thought of free-speech. Responses were at first slightly on the less-serious side:

“It’s good, ‘cause no one can tell me what to say innit” - Vicky, 20.

“Can’t say anything these days” - Ezra, 20.

But with a bit of prodding, we (eventually) got to the good stuff.

Most students were onboard with it. Dave, 19, a Politics student said, “I am firmly with freedom of speech; being able to hear a wide range of opinions helps us to choose the way we want to live our lives.”

However, when the conversation turned to imposing monetary charges for failing to uphold free speech, full support was lacking.

“[It’s] stupid in my opinion. I think the uni does have the right to decide if someone speaking is against the wider student interest," Dave stressed, “We shouldn’t give platforms to people who have abhorrent views, it’s alright to say, 'No, we don’t want you to talk here'”.

Of course, the question arose of what constitutes being too offensive to display.

Laura, 20, studying Law, suggested, “[It shouldn’t be allowed], not when it offends people directly. When someone is using their free speech to say hurtful things about someone's beliefs etc. directly, that is wrong.”

Dave disagreed, stating that, “Offence is fine. People are really easily offended. So we can’t ban offensive speech [because] we’d be banning everything.”

The group came to a mutual decision that universities should have it within their power to quell anything that advocated hate, incited violence, or was defamation. This conclusion is a blurry line to draw, however, because all are subjective.

Ollie, 19, added that he thought, “It would be quite interesting to listen to someone with damaging or dangerous views,” and that, “Without being exposed to them, we wouldn’t be able to position ourselves against them, or know they are still alive and kicking.”

Clearly, free speech has many purposes, but the jury is out on whether universities should have the overriding decision or not.

The conversation closed with some wise words from Ezra: “Free speech is nice, just don’t be a racist”.

Something we should all live by.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.

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