Nearly half of UK undergraduates want universities to be run as “safe spaces,” and less than a third want free speech to be the highest priority for campus policy, according to a new survey.
Conducted by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), the survey included responses from more than 1,000 full-time undergraduates, and focused on the issue of free speech on today’s campuses.
Forty-eight percent of respondents said they want universities to adopt safe space policies, while only 20 percent disagree. Thirty-seven percent expressed a belief that protection from discrimination should trump free speech, and 68 percent said trigger warnings should always or sometimes be used.
In contrast, only 27 percent thought freedom of speech should be the highest priority for campus policy, and only 18 percent disapproved of the use of trigger warnings.
The survey follows a wave of student unrest in the UK throughout the last year, marked notably by the Rhodes Must Fall campaign at Oxford University, which pushed for the removal of a statue of Cecil Rhodes outside Oriel College in Oxford.
The campaign’s leader, Ntokozo Qwabe, was embroiled in controversy this April after refusing to tip a waitress because she was white.
Qwabe defended his actions in a Facebook post published after the story became public: “I hear the white media is going hysterical because a white woman decided to cry over a harmless political statement made in one line on a piece of paper? Because one moment of white tears always makes news despite the everyday unarticulated black pain the dispossessed & landless masses of this cowntry [sic] have to live through! WOW. Whiteness is so weak. Cute actually.” (RELATED: Oxford Activists Want To Dump Rhodes, But Not His Scholarship)
While the Rhodes Must Fall campaign failed to reach its ultimate goal, HEPI’s survey shows that the safe space movement behind the campaign is alive and well on UK campuses.
“While a majority of students think you should never limit free speech in principle, they are considerably less supportive in practice,” HEPI director Nick Hillman said. “Higher education institutions should redouble their efforts to discuss the challenges, threats and limits to free speech with their students. Otherwise, no one can guarantee that higher education will continue to offer a space in which good ideas defeat weak ones through open debate.”