Should controversial figures be allowed on college campuses?

Last week beauty guru Jeffree Star brought his Can’t Relate tour to the Helix. Although the event was not associated with DCU, as stated by the Students’ Union on Twitter, it brought up the question again of whether controversial figures should be allowed on college campuses. 

Star has 10 million subscribers on YouTube and is arguably the most influential YouTuber in the beauty community. In 2017, videos emerged of him from years ago where he made racist comments, which he apologised for, and recently allegations of racism were made by fellow YouTuber Jackie Aina.  

The topic of whether contentious figures like Star should be allowed to speak at universities has been debated frequently. How do colleges balance the right to freedom of expression with the obligation to protect their students?  If you believe in freedom of expression, don’t you believe in the right of all people to express their views, regardless of whether you oppose them?  

There is an argument that by universities are supporting controversial figures like Star by having them on campus. Star’s event was like many other YouTuber events, consisting of a Q and A and a panel. He didn’t speak about serious issues. People have the right to call out Star when his behaviour is problematic and to express their concerns. 

Regarding referenda, both sides have the right to express their views. In May, Ireland voted to repeal the eighth amendment. Colleges around the country held debates on the matter and allowing both sides to speak is a fundamental part of democracy. 

In the case of extremists such as white supremacist Milo Yiannopoulos, many would argue that it is not morally sound to invite him to a university. There is no tolerance for discrimination at university; his views are not educational, and he seeks only to incite a reaction.  

Many believe students today are intolerant of beliefs that don’t align with theirs. In reality, we are a more accepting society. Of course, university is a place where students should challenge their ideas and they should not be protected from those who share different views, but hate speech doesn’t add anything to the conversation, it only hurts those who are targeted. 

Others would argue that the likes of Yiannopoulos have the right to express their opinions, regardless of whether they offend people. They argue that if conservative views like this are heard, they can be challenged. However, it is highly important that students and staff feel safe at college, and colleges can’t afford to risk that. Figures who have discriminatory beliefs are entitled to their opinion, but colleges should not facilitate bigotry. 

Colleges should take each guest into account and consider if they pose an educational benefit for students. If controversial figures are allowed on campus, there must be certain measures in place. Student groups should be given time to respond before an event takes place.  A moderator should be involved to challenge the speaker if necessary. 

Everyone has the right to speak, but if students are uncomfortable, they have the right to protest.