University of Nottingham and UoN Students’ Union joint statement following proposed Philosophy Politics and Economics (PPE) Society event.
We are very relieved that the Students’ Union PPE Society made the decision to cancel the event with Westboro Baptist Church. At the University of Nottingham and UoN Students’ Union we have made a strong commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion. To be inclusive, we must support all of our staff and students to be themselves as they work and study. The hateful views of the Westboro Baptist Church are in no way consistent with this goal.
The University and Students’ Union have a responsibility to achieve a careful balance between our responsibilities in accordance with the Equality Act 2010 and commitment to Academic Freedom of Expression. In this balance, we are guided by the principles outline from the Equality and Human Rights Commission. The underlying requirements here are the duties of the University in respect of freedom of speech, as laid down in Section 43 of the Education (No.2) Act 1986. These are set out in a Code which seeks to take steps which are reasonably practicable to ensure that freedom of speech within the law is secured for members, students and employees of the University and for visiting speakers.
We are extremely supportive of the role of a University and its Students’ Union in enabling respectful debate and tackling difficult and emotive topics – it is through such debates and discussions that we can advance our learning. We understand and support our responsibility to ensure freedom of expression, but firmly believe that a right to freedom of expression does not constitute a right to harass or harm.
We feel that there is no notion of ‘respectful debate’ in the manner in which the Westboro Baptist Church express their views – this is at best exemplified by their offensive website domain name, and reinforced by their well-publicised deliberate and organised activities to harass people on the basis of their personal characteristics.
The level of upset and distress that has been caused was evident in the response to the proposed PPE Society event. This has damaged trust amongst many members of our University student and staff community, in particular our LGBTQ+ students and staff. We are truly sorry that this happened, and commit to do better.
We therefore will be jointly conducting a review of processes to propose and approve student events which deal with controversial topics and speakers as set out in the Code of Practice. We will consult with the relevant student groups, and make proposals to improve the process through enhanced consideration of equality impact, and early consultation with groups who may be particularly affected by the presence of controversial speakers or groups. We will also consider our communications and planning around such events. We will publish the outcomes of this work on the University and Students’ Union websites.
Pro-Vice Chancellor for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion and People
Students’ Union Liberation Officer