Free speech
Why we want to make your college an Unsafe Space

Why we want to make your college an Unsafe Space

spiked launches an all-star free-speech tour of US campuses.

You don’t need us to tell you that something is very wrong on US college campuses. Universities in the nation that gave us the First Amendment and the Sixties student Free Speech Movement have been besieged by an unholy alliance between a self-raised army of student offence-takers and busybody bureaucrats, willing to ban a speaker or snuff out inconvenient thought as soon as someone cries ‘bigot’. From speech codes to trigger warnings to the demands that progressive professors be sacked for criticising the identitarian turn of anti-racism and the violent protests against controversial conservatives, stories of this shrieking illiberalism are never out of the news.

Worse still, over the past 12 months, a supposed backlash against the campus PC police has descended into farce. A small band of un-PC provocateurs, who have taken up free speech as their cause, are met at every campus they visit by illiberal-liberal protesters intent on snuffing them out. It’s become a pantomime staged between censorious students and wind-up merchants who merely delight in ‘triggering’ the easily offended. The noble fight for free speech has become its own kind of culture war, at the cost of any real understanding of the profound shift in US campus life and the myriad social trends that have coalesced to cause it.

That’s why, from September 2017 through to January 2018, spiked is heading to US colleges. Our sister US free-speech charity, spiked US, is organising the Unsafe Space Tour, bringing all-star free-speech line-ups to American University, Columbia, Rutgers, Harvard and more. Panels featuring Jonathan Haidt, Bret Weinstein, Laura Kipnis, Steven Pinker, Sarah Haider, Kmele Foster, Wendy Kaminer, Jonathan Rauch, Nadine Strossen, Mark Lilla, Robby Soave and Elizabeth Nolan Brown, and spiked’s own Brendan O’Neill, Ella Whelan and Tom Slater, will take on topics from Safe Spaces and identity politics to Trump and PC.

Unsafe Space is a provocation with a profound point to make. Our aim is to puncture taboos not for its own sake, but to the end of understanding what is going on, drawing out the radical, humanist case for free speech, and convincing students of why every college should be an Unsafe Space. Join us. Get your free tickets to our first two panels, at American University and Rutgers. And keep your eye on this page for upcoming events at Harvard, Columbia and elsewhere. If you’d like to be kept updated, or if you want to bring the tour to your campus, email Viv Regan. And if you’d like to help keep the show on the road, donate here.

Upcoming events

Is the left eating itself?
New York Law School, NYC – Thursday, November 2, 2017 – 7pm-8.30pm

Right-wingers have long been the targets of campus protests and calls for censorship. But, in recent years, self-avowed progressives, feminists and anti-racists have also been caught in the crosshairs. Feminist Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern, was recently investigated by campus authorities after students took issue with an article she wrote about student-professor relationships. And a progressive professor named Bret Weinstein at Evergreen State College is currently facing calls for his resignation due to criticisms he made of an anti-racist protest. Have today’s young progressives abandoned free speech? Is the campus left turning on its own? Or are these students simply holding their forbears to a higher, more progressive standard?

Bret Weinstein is an evolutionary theorist and a former professor of biology at Evergreen State College. This year, he was at the centre of a national news story when he criticised an anti-racist protest at Evergreen that asked white people to stay away from campus. There were calls for his resignation, and protesters took over the campus. Read more about Bret and his work here. @BretWeinstein

Angus Johnston is a historian of student activism and student government, and a professor at the City University of New York. He has contributed to Rolling Stone, the Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed and Slate, and has appeared on MSNBC, C-SPAN and Fox. Angus also regularly speaks on college campuses. @studentactivism

Laura Kipnis is a feminist essayist and academic. She is professor of media studies at Northwestern University and the author of seven books. Her latest, Unwanted Advances, expands upon her criticism of campus sexual-harassment policies. Due to her writing on the subject, she was subject to a Title IX investigation at Northwestern. @laurakipnis

Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked and a regular columnist for Reason and the Spectator. He has also written for the LA Times, the Sun, the Australian, and more. This year, he was named best online columnist at the Maggie Awards. He is the author, most recently, of A Duty to Offend.


Is political correctness why Trump won?
Harvard University, Cambridge, MA – Monday, November 6, 2017 – time TBC

The shock election of Donald Trump has sent many looking for answers. Why didn’t his outlandish statements, his ‘locker-room talk’ and his out-there views sink his candidacy in the way it would have sunk others? While many have chalked his win up to racism, xenophobia and misogyny – others suggest it was a revolt precisely against those who so casually throw around those labels. In short, the election was a referendum on political correctness, a choice between the immaculately focus-grouped Clinton and the from-the-hip Trump. Did PC culture get Trump elected? Will his presidency serve as an antidote to offence culture? Or is the thin-skinned Trump, who rankles at any criticism, just a different kind of ‘snowflake’?

Wendy Kaminer is a lawyer and social critic. She has written about law, liberty and feminism for publications including the New York Times, the Atlantic and the Wall Street Journal. She is the author of eight books, including Free for All: Defending Liberty in America Today.

Steven Pinker is Johnstone Family Professor in the department of psychology at Harvard University. He has written for the New York Times, Time and the Atlantic, and is the author of 10 books, including The Better Angels of Our Nature. His forthcoming book, Enlightenment Now, will be published in February 2018. @sapinker

Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked and a regular columnist for Reason and the Spectator. He has also written for the LA Times, the Sun, the Australian, and more. This year, he was named best online columnist at the Maggie Awards. He is the author, most recently, of A Duty to Offend.

Robby Soave is associate editor at Reason and a columnist for the Daily Beast. He has also written for the New York Times, the New York Post, CNN, USA Today, and more. He is currently on sabbatical, writing a book on activism in the age of Trump. @robbysoave


More to be announced soon…

Past events

Identity politics: the new racialism on campus?
Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ – Monday, October 2, 2017 – 7pm-8.30pm

The debate about racial equality is alive again on college campuses. But is it being mired in identity politics and competitive claims of victimhood? Tequila-themed parties or clumsy questions about where a student ‘is from’ have been recast as subtle forms of racism, as ‘cultural appropriation’ or ‘microaggressions’. And the idea that one’s identity gives one a special insight into certain issues is common. Those who dissent from an established view, whether they are from a minority community or not, are often shouted down. Discussions about police brutality towards African-Americans are particularly tense – one Wesleyan student was protested for writing a critical op-ed about Black Lives Matter. Similarly, criticism of Islam is often labelled Islamophobia, as a bigotry against Muslims rather than a rejection or dislike of the religion. By deciding who can speak on a topic and who cannot, by urging students of different backgrounds to tiptoe around one another, are student activists re-racialising campus life? Are students today really interested in fighting for equality, or merely competing for victim status?

Kmele Foster is founder and lead producer at Freethink Media. He is also a regular contributor to various political TV shows, and co-hosts a weekly podcast, The Fifth Column. @kmele

Sarah Haider is a writer, speaker, activist and co-founder of Ex-Muslims of North America. She promotes free speech, human rights, liberalism and atheism. @SarahTheHaider

Mark Lilla is professor of the humanities at Columbia University, and is a regular contributor to the New York Review of Books and the international press. His article ‘After Identity Liberalism’ was the most read political opinion piece in the New York Times in 2016. His new book is The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics.

Bryan Stascavage is a writer, free-speech advocate and student at Wesleyan University. In 2015, he wrote an article for the Wesleyan Argus that criticised the tactics of Black Lives Matter, sparking protests and calls to defund the paper. @bstas10

Title IX: feminism, sex and censorship on campus
Reason Magazine, Washington DC – Thursday, September 28, 2017 – 7pm-8.30pm

The fight for free speech on campus once went hand in hand with the fight for sexual freedom. College women in the Fifties were not only patronised intellectually, they were kept under lock and key – for fear of what might happen if they were allowed to run free. Today, colleges’ preoccupation with fighting sexism and sexual-assault seems to be rehabilitating that climate. Title IX rules aimed at ending sexist discrimination have been extended. Colleges are dealing with more and more sexual-assault cases, often with little evidence and overly broad definitions of sexual assault. And academics are being disciplined for supposedly discriminatory speech. One feminist scholar was investigated under Title IX for writing an article criticising Title IX. Has the fight against sexism become unfocused and censorious? Are college campuses unsafe for women? Or are women being infantilised?

Nadine Strossen is a professor at the New York Law School. From 1991 to 2008, she served as president of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). She is the author of Defending Pornography. And her new book, HATE: Why We Should Resist it With Free Speech, Not Censorship, will be published in 2018.

Elizabeth Nolan Brown is associate editor at Reason, where she covers policy, culture and current events from a libertarian and feminist perspective. She has written for publications including Politico, the LA Times, the Daily Beast and Fox News. @ENBrown

Ella Whelan is assistant editor at spiked. She is also a regular TV and radio commentator, and the coordinator of spiked’s Free Speech University Rankings. Her first book, What Women Want: Fun, Freedom and an End to Feminism, is published in September 2017. @Ella_M_Whelan

Robert Shibley is executive director of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), and the author of Twisting Title IX. He has worked with hundreds of students and faculty members on free-speech cases. He is a member of the bar in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Florida.

For permission to republish spiked articles, please contact Viv Regan.


comments powered by Disqus