Sheffield students respond to new government “free speech champion”

Written by Charlie Ridler

Sheffield students are calling for balance after a new government role with powers to fine student bodies over free speech infringements was reported last night.

A “free speech champion” for English universities is due to be announced next week as part of the Government’s ongoing agenda against “cancel culture”, according to The Sunday Telegraph.

Jamie Fennell, President of the University of Sheffield History Society, suggested protecting free speech should be left to the Students’ Union.

He said: “To just appoint one person seems like a performative gesture.

“It’s important to strike a balance between free speech and giving rise to hatred and animosity between different groups.”

Mr Fennell, 22, also works with the Holocaust Educational Trust, which works with schools and universities to provide teacher training and outreach programmes.

Mechanical engineering student, Michael Lauble, 22, also questioned the effectiveness of a single, government appointed role.

He said: “A centrally appointed arbiter of free speech surely can’t be a good idea.

“It shouldn’t fall to a single person to decide what can and can’t be done on campus.”

Jimmy Ball, a 23-year-old medical PhD student, maintained the role could benefit the way free speech is handled at university.

He said: “I think it’s a good idea if it can encourage free speech without encouraging hate speech.”

In 2019, Sheffield Students’ Union drew criticism for holding anti-racism meetings which only BAME students could attend. They responded by saying there was no ‘ban’ on white students contributing to race equality work.

A spokesperson for the SU said: “What is important is that, as part of this work, we really listen to the voices of those who statistics tell us are likely to have experienced racism in their lifetime – our black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) community.”

Written by Charlie Ridler

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