Female university students in discussion

23 May 2017

Safe spaces: the university culture wars

In this session at Going Global 2017, a panel of speakers from around the world examined the transformation of university culture by a generation of students who have grown up using social media; the concept of safe spaces and the increasing problem of censorship on campus. 

Regarding the growth and transformative effect of social media, Wim de Villiers, Vice-Chancellor, Stellenbosch University, South Africa, told the audience that it’s important to be proactive and ‘clued up’ in digital media to try to build bridges between the ‘online and offline world.’ 

The audience then heard from Dr Muhammad Ali, Vice-Chancellor of Government College University in Faisalabad, Pakistan, who spoke movingly about how his nation had been forced to define its narrative in the face of terrorism and extremism. He highlighted that educated youth had been indoctrinated into terrorism in Pakistan, and in light of this he said that academic responsibility has become different.

Jodie Ginsberg, Chief Executive of Index on Censorship, highlighted that there is an increasing problem of censorship on university campuses. She referred to some recent high profile examples of ‘disinvitations’ – where students come together to encourage faculties not to invite certain speakers because their views are considered ‘harmful’. 

She offered four reasons for this increase in censorship: the rise of identity politics; the notion of offence causing actual harm; financial incentives and social media.