The Ban Bindel policy: an affront to students

Ellamay Russell

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Topics Free Speech

Julie Bindel, feminist author and co-founder of the group Justice for Women, is no stranger to campus censorship. The National Union of Students (NUS) LGBTQ policy used to ban Bindel from speaking at any union event, based on her allegedly transphobic opinions; ‘Julie Bindel is vile’ was an official clause in the NUS’s LGBTQ strategy.

Bindel’s opinions caused a big stir in 2004, when she wrote that a ‘world inhabited just by transsexuals’ would ‘look like the set of Grease. And, 10 years later – despite the fact that the official, NUS ban was eventually dropped – she is still the target of students’ union moral posturing.

This week was no different: Bindel was invited and then disinvited from speaking at a student-run event at the University of Sheffield. In an email seen by spiked, Bindel’s invitation was cancelled days after she had accepted. The reason? The invitation was found to be in breach of a Sheffield Students’ Union policy – which states that all union-hosted events must be ‘LGBT friendly’. A student council voted to stop Bindel from speaking. While the student organisers protested, their hands were tied: ‘Defying the vote would endanger our funding’, read the email.

Left feeling like the Miss Havisham of student events, it looks like Bindel’s previous political criticisms have once again cost her the right to speak. But here’s the twist: as the apologetic student organiser concedes in the email, ‘the topic of the event is unrelated to [Bindel’s] prior writings on people identifying as trans’.

It is exactly this kind of pre-emptive censorship that is maintaining a babyish climate at British universities. Students’ union policies are so concerned with attaining the moral high ground that they won’t even entertain the presence of those they disagree with – regardless of the subject. But even if Bindel was invited to speak on trans issues, even if she turned up dressed as John Travolta, in homage to her much-abhorred article, she should be allowed to speak. A debate without opposing and strong opinions is not a debate; it’s a bore. Students should seek out enthusiastic and opinionated speakers. This, after all, is how opinions are formed and tested – through argument.

Bindel’s latest disinvitation shows just how belligerent students’ unions have become. They now actually threaten their own student organisations with the withdrawal of funding if they refuse to adhere to the union’s petty, censorious policies. But this is no excuse for students to just lie down and take it. How many times do students have to be slapped on the wrist before they grab the ruler and stand on their own two feet? Having an unwavering policy of total freedom of speech is the only way a university can be a place of true learning and debate, rather than something resembling a schoolyard, full of students sporting the latest political fashions.

Ellamay Russell is a writer based in London. She will be speaking at the debate Cotton-wool campus? at the Battle of Ideas festival, held at the Barbican in London on 18-19 October. Get tickets here.

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Topics Free Speech