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Safe or Sanitised: Are Students Getting the Most Out of University?

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CCT College Dublin

30-34 Westmoreland Street

D02 HK35 Dublin

Ireland

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This is a Satellite event of the Battle of Ideas

In 2017, freedom of speech is as vital and divisive a topic as it has ever been. The extent to which we should be free to discuss, promote and hear controversial ideas is argued over in the mainstream media and social media alike. In universities, this contestation is especially vibrant, and debates about what speakers and views should be allowed spill over into wider society. Recent years have witnessed a rise in the demand for safe spaces, where students can discuss free from exposure to unsavoury ideas. No-platforming, long a strategy designed to disinvite and bar speakers who hold particular views, has enjoyed something of a renaissance. Earlier this year, a talk by the Israeli ambassador to Ireland, Ze’ev Boker, at Trinity College Dublin was the latest to be cancelled amid protests by students, and controversial speakers rarely appear at Irish universities without strong objection.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and spiked magazine produce annual reports on the state of free speech in the US and the UK respectively, and their findings highlight curtailments of expression at almost every level of student life. No such survey has been carried out in Ireland, but safe spaces, no-platforming and controversies over cultural appropriation are common to Irish, US and UK universities, and beyond.

In this Dublin Salon debate, we hope to examine the question from a variety of perspectives. Do speakers’ bans and safe spaces enhance or degrade the intellectual life experienced by students? Defenders of safe spaces argue that they offer vulnerable students an opportunity to develop their ideas at their own pace, but does this risk a narrowing of perspective if difficult topics are simply shunned? Or should the role of universities now be to ensure first and foremost a student’s well-being? After all, what is to be gained from exposing students to arguments and ideas that upset them? And ultimately, is all this so very different from society at large, where everything from blasphemy to Holocaust denial is against the law in many Western countries?

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CCT College Dublin

30-34 Westmoreland Street

D02 HK35 Dublin

Ireland

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