Are colleges really a “safe space” for leftists?


With debate raging across the anglosphere about the overly liberal nature of university campuses today, Nathan Young investigates where UCD falls into all this.


Modern students, we are told, don’t want to be challenged. They would prefer to stay in a “Safe Space,” receiving an education devoid of challenges to their views from social conservatives. Conservative students, meanwhile, have extreme difficulty fitting in socially if their views become known. Many on the left, including Angela Nagle and Peter Tatchell now argue that this perceived closed-mindedness creates an environment where conservatives feel out of place and the ideas of the far and alt rights go unchallenged. Is this the case in UCD?

When the debates conveners for L&H were asked whether conservative students feel comfortable expressing their views in public, Aayan Atiq said “I’m not going to name any names, but there are some sort of go-to speakers that we have in the L&H that we know are relatively conservative so [when] we have motions which call for those kinds of opinions we ask them to come and speak.” Atiq adds “we know they don’t have an issue…we can easily find speakers who are espousing rather right-wing stuff.” Georgia Stynes, another debates convener, said “There are those presumptions made at the start of some debates like ‘presuming we’re okay with the LGBT community, presuming we’re okay with feminists’…but in something like a free speech debate, or a politics debate, like a Brexit debate, we try to make that neutral and invite both sides to speak at it.” On where they would draw the line on right-wing opinions, Atiq stated “We’re never going to have a motion that asks people to defend stuff like Neo-Nazism and all that kind of crap”

“We’re never going to have a motion that asks people to defend stuff like Neo-Nazism and all that kind of crap.”

A speaker who has been highly critical of  the LGBT+ community, feminists, and anyone of the left in general is Milo Yiannopoulos. The alt-light firebrand’s antics are highly documented, from denying the gender-pay gap to using ad-hominem attacks on his opponents, such as “fat, angry, lesbionic cat ladies.” The tactics of his liberal student opponents are also cause for controversy, as they have ranged from disruption of his talks to costly destruction of university infrastructure. When he came to UCD at the invitation of the Philosophy and Economic societies, however, he was greeted with no real protest, save the feminist book club requesting the format of the event be changed to allow a more critical examining of his views. When the societies involved declined to make these changes, no further action was taken, and Yiannopoulos’s talk even received a glowing review in this newspaper.

Another source of oft-presumed liberal conformity on campus is the College of Arts and Celtic Studies. Professor Danielle Clarke, Head of the School of English, Film, Drama, and Creative Writing in UCD explained “One of the reasons why humanities departments tend to get tarred with this particular brush is [that] the nature of teaching in an English department is highly individualistic.” Clarke adds that when you’re teaching critical thinking “one thing you might do is get people to question orthodoxies, all orthodoxies, whether they’re right wing, left wing, or somewhere in the middle.” Clarke believes that “the perceptions of left-wing bias in the humanities department generally come from people who don’t like left-wing thinking and don’t like humanities people.”

“The Union’s history of social activism, though strong, has very few examples where direct censorship has been used as a tactic.”

Cormac O’Herlihy, one of the editors of the Trinity based “Burkean Journal,” which is expanding to UCD this semester, told the University Observer, “there are a large number of centrist and conservative students in UCD and elsewhere that feel that their beliefs are not represented, and we want to make them heard.” He says that “ultimately conservative students are underrepresented in campus media. That said, one of the key tenets of conservatism is personal responsibility, so it’s time to stop complaining and actually do our best to make a positive contribution.” Georgia Stynes who is heavily involved in the Feminist Book Club, as well as the anarchist book club, told the University Observer “I wish there was (a left wing bias), genuinely.” She explains,“when we tried to do petitions for a feminist society and stuff like that the backlash was huge. People hated it, people laughed at me. People aren’t on board.”

Clearly then UCD’s student population, while liberal enough to show their support for campaigns such as marriage equality for same-sex couples and legalising abortion, they are not the censorious or close-minded people the stereotype says they should be. The Union’s history of social activism, though strong, has very few examples where direct censorship has been used as a tactic. Perhaps things will change in the future, but for the time being it seems UCD campus is a place where conservative voices and students are given a fair hearing.