Yesterday afternoon, students from various University Students’ Council clubs staged a silent protest in front of the University Community Centre.
With their mouths taped shut, members of groups such as Oxfam Western and the former Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights protested against the USC policy approval process, which they claimed promotes censorship.
An Oxfam Western member claimed the USC had disallowed the group from printing posters of starving children abroad.
The USC claims its policies are present to ensure students don’t feel uncomfortable on campus.
To its credit, the USC has been firm with its decisions pertaining to clubs the past two years. However, the organization is still inconsistent when making decisions with clubs, particularly when dealing with the appropriateness of clubs’ events or promotions.
For example, while the posters for Oxfam were allegedly rejected on the basis of potentially making students uncomfortable, the vagina cake — which arguably could have made other students uncomfortable — used by the Women’s Issues Network to promote V-Day last year was allowed to be displayed in the UCC atrium.
While no student should ever be placed at risk of physical danger or harm, the USC shouldn’t bend over backwards to ensure no student gets offended by slogans or events from clubs or services.
While not ideal, making people uncomfortable may be the only way clubs can get other students to notice their messages. Although conveying controversial messages at events may potentially offend some students, it also makes others stop and re-evaluate their own thoughts or beliefs.
With this in mind, the clubs must prove to the USC any displays or events they want to run serve a legitimate purpose and aren’t intended exclusively for shock value.
Clubs should also be aware that any written decision made by the Clubs Policy Committee is available to the public; they therefore have no excuse for not understanding the rationale behind any committee decisions. It would also be in the USC’s best interest to explain to students that these documents aren’t confidential.
Overall, regardless of how the USC makes its club related decisions, some students will be dissatisfied.
What the USC should take from yesterday’s protest, however, is that it shouldn’t strive to ensure clubs offend no one. If students aren’t placed in a compromising position, clubs should be allowed to use controversial messages to engage them.
More importantly, through yesterday’s silent process, the USC may have received the loudest feedback on how students believe free speech should be addressed in its long-term plan.