Recently, Cambridge University was at the centre of controversy, as a few of their students proposed changes to the way the university marked Remembrance Sunday. As is usual for proceedings, a student put forward a motion to the Students Union, and what should have followed is a healthy and reasoned debate on the topic.
A motion was first put forward suggesting that Cambridge University promote Remembrance Day more prominently amongst students. This was then followed by an amended motion, suggesting that the Remembrance Day memorial not only commemorate British soldiers involved in the First World War.
Stella Swain’s amended proposal suggested that the service should not just commemorate ‘British war veterans’, with Miss Swain stating that it should be a commemoration of ‘all those whose lives have been affected by war across the University of Cambridge’ (Independent).
The Students Union denied this motion, based on a vote from the Student Council. This statement was at first misunderstood by the media, who suggested that Cambridge University had banned Remembrance Day, as opposed to denying the newer motion. The Students Union later released a statement stating that ‘it was understood that in not passing either motion, CUSU (Cambridge University Students Union) would carry on as it always had in its Remembrance Day commemorations’ (Cambridge University Students Union website).
The Students Union handled the motion diplomatically and fairly. Stella Swain offered an opinion in a reasonable manner, and it was heard and reviewed by the Student Council. The Council voted, and the motion was not passed.
The issue at hand is of course extremely controversial, however her motion was neither offensive or discriminatory. It was very debatable, and it is no surprise that it reached mainstream media. There was great opportunity for healthy, harmless discussion in the aftermath of the decision. As students, we are expected to have a voice in politics, and the publicity of this story should have been an opportunity to review the event in retrospect, now the motion had been denied.
The public, however, was less forgiving. Within hours of the story’s release, members of the student body were receiving death threats and insults online. Miss Swain in particular received harsh comment from right wing Facebook pages. Comments on the Facebook page ‘Our Eye on Islam’ branded her a ‘stupid c***’ and a ‘traitor’ for her motion, as well as ridiculing her appearance. Many pages still accuse her of ‘banning Remembrance Day’, when she has done nothing of the sort.
Any views on the topic aside, it shows the poor state of politics when a group of people in their early twenties can treat politics with more maturity and fairness than adults who have been voting for decades. A story such as this could have encouraged an insightful and considerate discussion, but instead left thousands of hateful insults and death threats targeting one young student for using the freedom of speech we are so proud of.
As a public, stories such as these should provide us with the opportunity to learn opposing views, debate them, and reach new understandings. The use of these platforms to threaten and insult those offering new opinions is a sickening threat to the voice of young people, in an era where it is so important to speak up.