It seems as if “freedom of speech” has been a motif throughout my life, lately.
I am visiting Oxford, England on Friday. So, being a curious person, I decided to do a bit of research. I looked at all of the best landmarks, but I checked out current events in the area as well. Apart from snagging Michelin honors and combatting carbon emissions, Oxford has been in the news for (you guessed it) its academics.
The University of Oxford’s student government barred a Christian Union from tabling at Balliol College’s freshers fair. The JCR took this measure in order to maintain a more “secular” and ultimately more welcoming environment.
Freddy Potts, Balliol’s student vice president, explained, “Christianity’s influence on many marginalised communities has been damaging in its methods of conversion and rules of practice, and is still used in many places as an excuse for homophobia and certain forms of neo-colonialism.”
Balliol’s CU was eventually told it could put out information at the fair’s multi-faith stall. The student organization wasn’t having it. As reported by The Guardian, a motion was passed saying this measure violates freedoms of speech and religion for Oxford students.
When I read this, I wondered if a measure like this would ever be taken in the U.S. And if so: would there be the same level of outrage?
Of course. In doing further research, I came across narratives from students at Southeast Missouri State University and Georgetown University and Wright State University. The reasons for each of the Christian groups being confronted by their university communities were as diverse as the schools themselves. But the criticism, caution and hurt feelings still pervaded each case.
Just by virtue of being in England, my mind is becoming more attuned to British struggles and British concerns. And yet, as is the case in the U.S, it seems free speech battles in the U.K. are also a tug-of-war between the woke and the unawake.
I did come across some particularly lovely news involving Oxford, though. It was about a lovely person, who’s existence and resistance makes all of life’s little squabbles seem insignificant compared to what she has faced and overcome.
Malala Yousafzai has started her freshman year at University of Oxford. And my God. I was happy about my GPA and my SAT scores when I stepped foot on the Hill. Yousafzai has a fund and a Nobel Peace Prize under her belt as a freshman! No big deal.
Next to this news giving me a time-peg to stan for Yousafzai, it’s interesting to look at her journey through the lens of championing free speech as well.
I am currently working on a project for class dissecting the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Absorbing information about that tense era, going to last night’s symposium and touching on the death of Jo Cox, considering all that Yousafzai has done for free speech and girls’ empowerment through education world-wide? Apart from just being heavy narrative to process, it really has put into perspective for me the gravity of the gift of free speech. It not only comes with responsibility, but consequences.
Some are small (but nonetheless important), such as lack of exposure at the freshers’ fair. Others can be overwhelming and definitive, such as getting severely injured or even killed for stating what you believe in.
When I decided to pursue journalism full-force, my parents begged me to be careful. Visiting the Newseum last summer and looking up at that two-story-high memorial for fallen journalists really brought that home.
It’s sobering to think about how using your skills to make the world a better place can have negative, detrimental effects on you as an individual. Of course, if given freedom of speech, it’s important not to let chilling effects of any kind hold you back from speaking your truth. That’s the only way we can push ahead and make progress in this life.