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Campus Speech and Compromised Safety

As universities try desperately to serve two masters (knowledge production; diversity and inclusion), they will increasingly end up sanctioning speech that should be protected.

· 9 min read
Campus Speech and Compromised Safety

Kathleen Stock tweeted recently that ‘Many philosophers have existed only in their own minds, but I think I may well be the first to exist only in other people’s.’ She was responding to the latest outbreak of leftist moral panic about gender-critical feminism, in this case a series of actions taken by student activists at the University of Oxford in protest against her being invited to participate in a debate hosted by the Oxford Union—which describes itself as ‘the world’s most prestigious debating society’. In commenting that she exists only in other people’s minds, Stock meant that the version of herself and her views being objected to by the student activists was unrecognizable to her.

I can relate to that because I’ve been the subject of similar misrepresentation on my own campus. A visual campaign—posters, stickers, chalking, and graffiti—currently into its eighth week proclaims that I spoke at a rally ‘advocating against the existence of trans people’; that a subject I teach has ‘an indisputable history of transphobia’; and that taking my subject would mean supporting ‘fascists and bigots’ (so say several posters glued to walls around campus, including inside my building and outside the lecture theatre in which I teach). Chalking as part of a Trans Day of Visibility protest declared that I 'spoke with Nazis'. A colleague from another school in my faculty suggested that a reference to a Danish person who underwent sex-reassignment surgery in Germany, made early in my speech at the Let Women Speak rally in Melbourne, had been made ‘for the Nazis there’. Within a week of the rally, the dean sent an email to all staff and students in my faculty declaring his position on it, despite its having been held off campus and having been utterly unrelated to university business: ‘I utterly abhor and condemn last Saturday’s event and the neo-Nazi activity that accompanied it. The dehumanizing views expressed in the anti-transgender rally, and the scornful manner in which they were expressed, are antithetical to my own values and to the values of our University.’

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