The Snowflake

Connor Axiotes discusses the freedom of speech on university campuses - is it right to ban controversial speakers from visiting our university?

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Allowing the freedom from coercion by a body (be that a university, government, or particularly persuasive individual) to speak freely, is a liberty that is as fundamental to maintaining overall freedom, as it is a significant tenet of progress. Freedom of speech allows for human progress. It allows us to praise or pass judgement on the views of others. It is integral to an advancing, comfortable and free people.

In the context of our education, it allows us to formulate, challenge and then mould our ideas in a vibrant and engaging environment, without the fear of saying something others (sensitive to antithetical viewpoints) may find unsavoury.

Examples of those things often found unsavoury, in the context of a university include: climate change deniers, pro-life advocacy and anti-trans activists. This is not an exhaustive list; it seems to be exponentially increasing in size. Recently, an ex-US Astronaut was compelled to apologise for praising Winston Churchill.

I feel about now is a good time to introduce a term I have modified for my own general use. I find its physical structure comparable to those who it defines, and generally humorous too. The term is Snowflake: a description for a person who deems themselves and fellow Snowflakes as too sensitive to hear ideas they assume (amongst themselves) to differ from their point of view.

The Snowflake would rather ban contentious views from giving pre-prepared talks, undermine them in seminars/lectures and argue nothing of substance but that the view is ‘immoral’ or ‘indefensible’ and thus does not deserve to be heard or debated against. I believe not wanting to confront a debate is a sign of a weak argument.

What the Snowflakes do not seem to understand though – is that the most effective way of dealing with those views deemed contemporarily unacceptable or toxic, is to allow them to surface. Once said views are heard, and appropriately debated on their lack of merit or validity, it is up to the listening parties to dismiss them on the grounds of the argument.  

If views are as poisonous and narrow-minded as people portray them to be, the resulting reaction from the listening party will be enough to ensure such views are dispelled or remain with the minority who will be demotivated by the reaction.

The Snowflake believes that not subjecting people to unsavoury views is enough to stop them from manifesting. Heinous views that are not confronted with persuasive argument are destined to flourish dangerously without being held to account.

Free speech allows for progress. Do not attempt to impede that in, of all institutions, our universities.