Student in Censorship Row After 'Raising Hand' During Debate

Imogen Wilson
Imogen Wilson, in Teviot debating hall at Edinburgh University in March 2015, where she was accused of violating ‘safe space’ rules at a student council meeting on Thursday night. Imogen Wilson/Facebook

A music student came close to being thrown out of a university meeting for raising her hand during a debate last week.

Imogen Wilson, 22, vice-president of academic affairs at the Edinburgh University Students' Association (EUSA) was accused of violating "safe space" at a student council meeting on Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) on Thursday evening.

The EUSA defines "safe space" as "a space which... includes the prohibition of discriminatory language and actions." However, the regulations also demand that students refrain from making any hand gestures which "denote disagreement."

Wilson made clear on Twitter that people should be far more concerned with the issues discussed at the debate itself, rather than focusing on her arm movements.

Maybe people should be less concerned with my arm movements and more concerned that EUSA just passed policy to support BDS.

— Fizzy Abou Jawad (VP Education) (@EdUniVPE) April 1, 2016

At the end of the debate, the BDS motion was passed with 249 votes in favor and 153 against. Wilson was dismayed by the outcome. "I've witnessed a horrific rise in anti-Semitism on university campuses all over the U.K. Unsurprisingly, the speeches in favour of BDS were quick to silence cries of anti-Semitism, claiming that BDS isn't meant to harm Jewish students, and is about the liberation of Palestinians," she wrote in The Student newspaper on Sunday.

Wilson maintains she supports the safe space policy, but insists that it was abused in this particular instance in order to silence her views against BDS and anti-Semitism. "Safe space cannot become a tool for the hard-left to use when they disagree, which is what I believed happened in this case," she tells Newsweek.

Appalled by the safe space policy stifling free speech on campus, Charlie Peters, a first year philosophy student at Edinburgh University, set up a petition in December 2015 entitled: "Reinstate Free Speech at the University of Edinburgh."

However, he insists that campus censorship is a problem now more than ever across the U.K. as a whole.

"Banning hand gestures on campus is just another example of the hypersensitive climate we have at British universities today," Peters tells Newsweek. "Our student leaders and student unions have been banning speakers, political groups, newspapers, songs and fancy dress, so it was only a matter of time before they started banning simple hand gestures too."

Safe spaces now censor "inappropriate hand gestures" - my university is becoming pathetic. #EdUni #FreeSpeech

— Charlie Peters (@CDP1882) March 31, 2016

In light of the incident on Thursday evening during the BDS debate, hundreds more have signed Peters' open letter, which has now amassed over 1,000 supporters.

"Free speech is sacrosanct," writes medicine student Lewis Finlayson on the petition page. "I am embarrassed at what my student union is becoming."

Another signatory, university alumni Jeff Lloyd, wrote: "I am appalled at the rise of such weak-mindedness amongst the student body."

Andy Peel, EUSA vice-president, responded to criticism of the student body's "safe space" policy. "EUSA fully supports free speech, and we believe that the best way to protect this is to ensure our venues are safe spaces where all students can participate in debate," he tells Newsweek. "A complaint was raised at last week's Student Council meeting. However, by majority vote the students in the room dismissed the complaint and the meeting progressed as normal."