On the 13th September, Dr Joanna Williams of the University of Kent came to speak to a collected Radley and St. Helen's 6th form audience about the contemporary issue of free speech and its importance within the academic world, especially at the UK’s leading universities. The first thing she did was carry out a poll among the audience by asking for a show of hands of who was in favour of freedom of speech within the law, to which almost everyone raised their hand, setting up a tone for an interesting talk.
Dr Williams then went on to discuss her strong feelings against the term ‘snowflake generation’ and how young people should be given an opinion within society. Following this, the speaker further looked at how, because the universities portray this censorship as normal so often, there is a real lack of recognition of the issue among the students.
The lecturer then added how many people are having their invitations to schools rescinded, as she introduced the term ‘disinvitation season’, using examples such as Boris Johnson and Milo Yiannopolous, who were turned away from giving lectures at school for fears of indoctrinating students.
Dr Williams also crucially highlighted the issue of 'intellectual safety' among members of the public: a concept where people are only allowed to portray moderate views in order to maintain a 'comfortable' atmosphere. She argued that in an academic context, this notion is damaging in itself to younger generations, as it supresses the desire for debate, as students feel they cannot express themselves.
Overall, the talk was extremely eye-opening as Dr Williams exposed the blurred boundaries between free speech and the law and how the assumption of vulnerability among the students has now spread throughout society. She also expressed her strong disapproval, in her view, that if people were paying expensive tuition fees for a high class education, they deserved the right to freedom of speech.
Report by Xav Coughlan and Will Barker, K Social and D Social 6.1s