Cover Photo - Liberté, égalité, fraternité (Liberty, equality, fraternity) - Delacroix Liberty leading the people.
Are you a snowflake? Odd question I know. It was the Guardian’s insult of the year in 2016, sprinkled across tabloids with abandon when discussing anything remotely university related. It refers to young adults as being less resilient to criticism, emotionally vulnerable and unable and unwilling to take offense.
What it doesn’t say about students however, is that they are fighting for a more open and equal society. The true liberal agenda. Inclusion policies exist up and down the country and seek to challenge many of the socioeconomic issues facing certain groups within society through positive campaigns aimed at giving people a voice, an underrepresented voice. This is a positive thing. However, if we are to achieve true inclusivity we need to ensure that others who do not hold the views we have do not have their voice taken away in the process. We can’t fight to end discrimination against one group only to discriminate against another. That is as hypocritical as it is threaded into current trends sweeping much of Europe and the West now.
"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it!"
- Voltaire / Evelyn Beatrice Hall
We must therefore seek to include all in a climate of free and open debate and discussion in universities. Without doing this, we only create a climate of censorship and underlying currents of opposition to the positive work and campaigns held on university campuses up and down the country. This means accepting that some people may want to speak out against many of the campaigns and policies within universities on everything from BDS, to the campaign for free education. This means de-politicising universities away from national political party lines and towards on-campus issues. When we march, it should be for the issues that affect us all on campuses, let us be united in our common efforts to improve our university experiences.
Look at what our own Student Union has achieved in the last two years. Not only have they taken onboard the concerns of the student body on resources within the library, but they have taken the fight to the university on everything from accommodation to the provision of additional welfare services for students and bringing in free sports society memberships. These are the issues students care about, and the impact has been astounding and should be applauded. These initiatives are inclusive, these issues affect us all here and now. The Union must always be the ambassador for such initiatives and champion free and open discussion – promoting inclusion of all views in the implementation of its decisions and campaigns.
A defence of free speech and true inclusion then is not a defence of hate speech, it is not a defence of personal attacks directed at someone based on their gender/religion/sexual preferences or anything of that order. It is a defence of the right of each person to put across their view on an issue, substantiated in whatever way they wish to substantiate it, without it being open to accusations of being a direct threat. It is your right to disagree. If you are offended, use it as an opportunity to challenge (not stifle) their views so you can both understand how you came to your respective views. Know that for everyone that offends you there are others who are there to support your views.
So next time someone refers to our generation as generation snowflake, tell them it’s the generation that is fighting to maximise the values that the last generation instilled. That of tolerance, respect for others, equality and inclusion of all. In the same breath challenge yourself to listen to other views, to stop others from trying to silence dissenting voices - argue, disagree - then shake hands and respect your differences.
So are you a snowflake? Or will you become a snowball and enter the snowball fight, ready to have fun and allow your views to be challenged. Because that’s what’s coming after university – and we all need to be ready for it.