Last month the University experienced yet another case of anti-Semitism, in a worryingly increasing trend that can be observed nationwide. Outside of a McDonalds, onlookers witnessed two boys with anti-Semitic phrases such as ‘Hitler wanted my kind alive’ and ‘I’m a Nazi’ scribbled across their shirts. After a Facebook post was made bringing attention to this incident, the Student Union took action by banning all white shirt social events in order to stop something similar occurring in the future.
This move has sparked controversy, with some students seeing it as just a PR move to paper over anti-Semitic cracks that exist across campus (‘yet another statement rather than a solution to the problem’ as one individual put it bluntly), and others seeing it as a harsh overreaction that punishes hundreds who weren’t involved. Some societies have already registered complaints with the Student Union, as they had already purchased shirts for their events that they are now not allowed to use.
With a Spokesperson for Leicester Students’ Union already acknowledging that this move ‘won’t solve hate speech’, the real significance of this action is questionable and also fails to lay out a long-term plan for eradicating hate speech on campus. Many are also left pondering whether this leaves open the door for the banning of other student society events when controversy arises.
Others say that this sets a clear precedent for the future and shows that hate speech will not be tolerated on University grounds. This view is shared by a spokesperson from the University Jewish Society who explained that ‘it stops situations where someone has to see a racist/sexist/homophobic as a joke on someone’ and which will make ‘students feel safer in the long-run’, although acknowledges that this action has been received poorly even within the Jewish Society itself.
With similar incidents occurring at the University of Exeter and Newcastle University, some have asked why the banning of such events was not carried out sooner by the Student Union. It is no secret that anti-Semitism is increasing not only on campuses but among the population of the UK in general, in 2018 there was a record amount of anti-Semitic hate crimes ( 1,652), so why was preemptive action not taken?
It is unclear as to how effective this policy will be in tackling our hate speech problem going forward. Whilst acknowledged by those affected as being the ‘biggest step’ the Uni has taken in tackling anti-Semitic activity on our campus, and with the results of the ongoing investigations into the two individuals involved not yet decided, only time will tell how significant the move will be in preventing hate speech going forward.
Ed Morrison, Cameron Forbes