University Leader Defends Free Speech in Australia’s Tertiary Education Sector

October 5, 2018 Updated: October 5, 2018

A university leader spoke out about importing the growing culture of “safe spaces” and the negative effect it has had on free speech in Australian universities, The Australian reported.

According to Concordia University – Portland, safe spaces were conceived in the U.S. during the women’s movement in the 1960s when women created a space to escape domestic violence. The idea then became a part of U.S. college campuses when safe space policies were introduced to ensure that universities were inclusive and discrimination-free places for student of any sexuality or race.

The concept, which has since been adopted by some Australian universities, has now grown from places free of physical abuse into places that should shelter students from ideas, conversations, or criticism that would make them feel uncomfortable.

The Chancellor of University of Western Sydney, Peter Shergold, disagreed with the idea of “absolute” safe spaces that go to the extreme of censoring differences in ideas and the freedom to express them, The Australian reported.

“Universities need safe spaces for students, be they LGBTI or Muslim … where they can go and talk to each other,” Shergold said. “But university campuses cannot be safe spaces in terms of ideas.”

Shergold is concerned that universities have been fostering an environment that insulates students from being “challenged by ideas.”

Anti-Conservative Bias in Student Unions?

Student unions have also been in the spotlight for alleged anti-conservative bias after the University of Sydney Union (USU) intervened to pull funding for a documentary screening by one of its student clubs last year.

After about 50-60 students at the university protested the documentary called “The Red Pill,” which was scheduled to be screened on May 4, 2017,  the union defunded the event, saying that it had received complaints that the documentary promoted sexual violence, Hack reported.

The screening was organised by the Conservative Club, Students for Liberty, and the Brotherhood Recreation and Outdoor Society.

The film followed the journey of its director, Cassie Jaye, who initially identified as a feminist only to later forgo the label after she listened to the reasoning from both sides of the debate. She currently neither identifies as feminist or a men’s rights activist.

One of the most shocking parts of the film revealed the lack of access men have to domestic violence shelters in the United States.

“In the United States, there are over 2,000 domestic violence shelters,” Jaye said in the film. “All of them serve female victims and nearly all of them turn away male victims. In fact as of 2016, there’s only a single domestic violence shelter for men.”

When asked about their funding decision, USU Honorary Secretary Shannen Potter told Hack, “We by no means want to shut down debate.”

The Union representative said that she had no problem with the community having the debate, but that since the Union was funded by its members, they are obligated to back down when regulations are breached. The union regulations specified that funds could not be used towards activities that discriminate or harass on the basis of sex.

“We’re happy for you to have it, but we don’t have to pay for it,” said Potter.

Potter said that after reviewing the film herself and investigating the claims, she believed that the film was “physically threatening for women on practice” with an “implied threat of sexual assault.”

A conservative journalism student who had also seen the film told Hack that she personally did not see the “message of hatred.”

Although the USU pulled funding for the event, it continued as scheduled.

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