Freedom of speech has risen to the forefront of many discussions around universities recently, and we’re excited to update you on some of the work your Students’ Guild has been doing to ensure we’re leading the way with widening debate. We’ve drafted an updated policy and framework which takes account of the digital world we’re in, and incorporates the brilliant work of your President, Sunday Blake, in the sector-wide conversation about updating codes of practice.
Consultation now open
Why are we doing this?
Three weeks ago, we launched a review of our Digital Event Protocols and External Speaker Policy – this was to make sure that the policy would work for the whole community, particularly with the increased reliance on digital events. We’d once again like to thank all our societies and students for their patience throughout this review. No events have been cancelled, and only a few were postponed in agreement with the societies affected. They were postponed because risk assessment templates that were being used for events did not take account of the digital delivery mode; they were for events held in spaces on campus. We had concerns for the safety and welfare of our members who had not mitigated the risks associated with online events, such as zoom-bombing and online harassment.
To give an example of what we’re working towards with digital events, to ensure balanced and respectful debate and discussion, we might consider changing the nature of an event from being closed to members of one society only to being open to all members of the Guild. We’d then need to see how this is facilitated in the broadcast on the chosen social media platform. To ensure that unlawful hate speech or harassment can be acted upon appropriately, we’d want to understand the digital controls and Chairing mechanisms of the online platforms used.
We’ve worked with student groups who have regularly encountered issues with processes, and we believe we’ve developed a flexible and supportive framework that promotes and protects the right to freedom of expression, whilst also helping to ensure activity does not interfere with or deprive other people of their rights in accordance with all relevant legislation, both for online and in-person events.
This is the start of a conversation with you, our members, to see if we’ve set the right tone for you. We’re going to have a consultation period until Monday 8 March 17:00 using this process and gathering feedback from you on its effectiveness and usability.
You will be encouraged to have a look, use it and tell us what you think – we are committed to reviewing this regularly alongside all the sector developments to ensure you’re deciding how we do things in our member-led organisation. We know it's not perfect, which is why we need to hear from you!
What can you expect to see?
Introduction of a risk-based due diligence process where events are subject to different levels of consultation depending on foreseeable risk – the aim is not to stop the event; the aim is to appropriately mitigate any risk during the approval process before it is approved
An opportunity for a monthly forum to talk about freedom of expression, hot topics for debate, speaker networks and event management – this is not an approval forum, just a regular opportunity to connect with our members while there is so much development on this issue
More information for you about our approach and commitment to Freedom of Expression to give a flavour of what we’re trying to achieve together
The inclusion of “digital events” explicitly in the process to answer all your queries and concerns about whether digital events should be included in processes or not
If you’re a society committee member, the trial period to test the new process is now open. The new speaker form has been uploaded to the Activity System, which you can access via your Society Admin Area.
Feedback we've already received and looking into:
- Length of the framework to ensure it is clear and to the point
- Mechanism for any student to run a speaker event, not just affiliated societies or group
- Clarity around the complaints process
- Clarifying the relationship between the framework and the complaints procedure with the University
- Approach to bulk processing of requests when receiving a high volume of requests
- Process for assessing any changes in risk 3-5 days before the event
- Process for support for societies where there are last minute changes to speakers which need approval
- Possibility of an extraordinary procedure for late approval of high profile speakers/ in response to a developing local, national or international event
Shoutout to your Guild President
Sunday, your Guild President, has been collaborating with Wonkhe and other student leaders from around the country to launch a new report, Taking the debate forward, which proposes a new code for students’ unions, establishing and reinforcing important principles of political diversity and freedom of expression on campus.
We consider this report to be ground-breaking and it is hoped it will play a huge part in resolving concerns around the ability of students to engage freely in debate on campus. Sunday is a committed free speech advocate, who believes robust debate and informed arguments are integral to academic life. Liv, your Vice President Activities, has also been working closely with Sunday and the Activities team to ensure societies are supported and get the best possible outcome.
It is fantastic to see Sunday working on such an important piece of national work, representing Exeter students beyond our campuses. Even more reason why we wanted to be one of the first to review our approach and take a stance that supports sector developments, and profiles Sunday’s leadership.
“l will always defend the right of students to oppose and debate others’ views – which is almost always about helping our articulate, intelligent, and astute students to engage in debate. It’s also fantastic to be ahead of the curve. We’re taking steps to secure free speech before the Government’s new academic free speech law is in place and shaping it to serve our members’ interests.” - Sunday Blake, Guild President
Finally, we just wanted to say thank you for your patience and understanding! We apologise for the brief pause to event approvals at such short notice while we have worked on this. Welfare and safety were, and always are, our top priority. Our digital doors are open – please get in touch with us and give us feedback on our approach (or if you have any other thoughts or ideas you’d like to share!) by completing the consultation survey below.