Last week I took part in a mass walk-out from a debate at Brunel University, in order to protest against Katie Hopkins being invited. Three days later the story went viral, and suddenly all over the internet we were accused of being bigots who hate freedom of speech. This isn’t the case at all – these are the very reasons we took action.
Waiting for the debate to start
On Monday night, I attended a debate at Brunel University, where I’m a third year student. I queued to show my ticket, had my bag searched, guiltily drank two glasses of wine at the complimentary reception; then very nervously filed into the auditorium. I, like fifty others spread through the audience, wasn’t there to listen to the debate. Not because I’m a bigot, as the Independent helpfully informed me, nor because I hate freedom of speech, as many people all over the internet are insisting, but because I don’t understand why my university decided to invite a woman who makes money inciting hatred to our fiftieth anniversary celebrations.
In the media
Nobody involved with the protest expected this story to blow up like it did. Especially not three days later; three days in which neither the university nor Katie had acknowledged that anything had even happened. We’d pretty much forgotten about it, to be honest. And then Thursday came out of nowhere, suddenly everybody was talking about us and we spent the majority of the day refreshing Twitter in disbelief; “we made the Independent!” “We’re in the Guardian!” “Sky News has picked it up?!?!” “The video has had HALF A MILLION views!!!” The whole thing was totally unexpected. We didn’t decide to protest as part of a publicity stunt; although, as somebody with no actual expertise on the welfare state, I have no doubt that Katie Hopkins was only invited to increase the university’s profile.
I’m paraphrasing, but many people seem to be of the opinion that if we weren’t all such raving left loonies, we’d have done stayed to listen to what Katie had to say; and engaged in an intelligent debate with her. Sure, that might well have been the case with a different set of panellists, but I’ve read and heard a lot of what Katie’s had to say in the past; her opinions don’t seem to change much, and she doesn’t seem to do that much debating.
The real Katie Hopkins
Earlier this year, on the first episode of chat show ‘If Katie Hopkins Ruled the World’, an audience member called up the controversial columnist for speaking pure hate, after she suggested that any woman over nine stone should be charged extra when boarding a plane. Katie then screamed at her, on a televised programme, that she was a “raging, angry fat person in a pink jacket.” And yet, we were expected to attempt to hold a reasonable debate with her?
This is the woman who, eight years ago, after appearing on The Apprentice, got a taste for fame, and realised very quickly that the only way to hold onto it was by upsetting as many people as possible. Since then, she has taken to the most popular national paper in the country to compare migrants to cockroaches; informed women everywhere that they not only don’t actually want gender equality, but that they couldn’t handle it if they achieved it; and described depression as the ‘ultimate passport to self obsession’. That’s really only to name a few.
Or, what about the time that Katie appeared on This Morning, and announced that she judges children by their names, even before having met them? Remember how she reeled off a list of the types of names which she finds unacceptable, one of which was any name based on a geographical place. To which, Phillip Schofield quickly pointed out that she has a daughter called India. Rather than considering this and rethinking her opinion, or admitting she might have made a mistake, Katie said “that’s not related to a location though.” Sure it’s not Katie, but do you want to mention that to the 1.25 billion people living there?
There was no intention to debate
That’s how Katie Hopkins is; she wasn’t there to debate, and she certainly wasn’t interested in listening to and considering other people’s opinions. Even when it was very difficult for her to argue that she was right, given the fact that it’s a fairly well known fact that India is definitely a place; she still couldn’t give in. So, while I understand those who claim that we as students are supposedly the future of the country, and we should have shown this by advancing intelligent debates, showing her up and making her think; there was just no point. I could have sat in a room with her on my own for the entire three hours and had a one-on-one debate; it still wouldn’t have achieved anything. Katie Hopkins is paid to be horrible to people, I’m sure it’s made her a lot of money, and she is good at it. She’s not going to change her opinions following a debate with a few students; so why waste our time?
We don’t hate freedom of speech
And to those who are adamant that we hate freedom of speech; I think you’ve really misunderstood. We didn’t stop Katie talking – nobody took away her platform. Let’s look at what actually happened, we went along, as was within our right, and promptly demonstrated that we weren’t okay with her being there by leaving. Leaving, I might add, in what was described on Twitter as a “dignified and effective protest” by Katie’s fellow panellist, author and journalist, Harriet Sergeant.
Nobody stopped Katie speaking, nobody ever planned to. She may have spoken to a few less people, but I was in that room, it wasn’t sold out, we didn’t stop anybody coming to see her; they just didn’t want to. I understand the importance of freedom of speech, I mean, I’m training to be a journalist. They kind of drill that stuff into us. But just because a person has freedom of speech definitely doesn’t mean that I have to listen to them. And if that person regularly uses her freedom of speech to project hatred in national papers, or to 600,000 people on Twitter, or on national television; then I have a right to object; to show them that I, like many others, do not think it’s acceptable to say such awful things about other people.
At the end of the day, maybe we did give Katie what she wanted, as I’ve seen people criticize us for. She seems fame-hungry, and we definitely sent a lot of publicity her way on Thursday. But, we also showed our university that we don’t think it’s okay to invite people like Katie Hopkins to our campus, especially to an event which is supposed to be part of our fiftieth anniversary celebrations. That was the point of our protest, it was never about taking away anybody’s freedom of speech. We each pay an extortionate amount of money to study here, we do not want that money spent on an event which Katie Hopkins is invited to be a special guest. To quote our union president, Ali Milani, Brunel IS better than her. We are an extremely diverse community, but a relatively small one. Walking around our campus, it’s likely that you would bump into somebody you know. It’s also likely that you’d witness signs of compassion and kindness towards one another. Hatred isn’t tolerated on our campus; so why on earth would we be okay with inviting somebody from outside to spread it?
Were you at the walk out? If so, we’d love to hear your views in the comments below!