29th May 2012

Inexperienced but ambitious students who had unwittingly invited a known controversial guest seek some advice.

Working with students is a great experience, every campus being different and unique in its own special way. Since 2001, the spot light has often been on Muslims at university, which has been challenging for staff as well as the students themselves. In a decade that has seen two major world conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, numerous intra-country conflicts under the banner of combating Al-Qaeda and a continuing conflict in Israel-Palestine, students have continued to become more politicised and engaged with foreign policy.

Whether it is the Israel-Palestine issue, the ‘war on terror’ as it was known under the previous American administration, or macroeconomic policies, students are having vibrant dicussions in the public space and challenging the status quo as well as long existing paradigms.

However, as students become polarised on these very important issues, the approach they take can easily and very quickly become divisive on campus. As a result, a campus can easily become a place divided with student societies focusing solely on the needs and wants of their constituencies which therefore legitimises and reinforces the barriers between different students.

students have continued to become more politicised and engaged with foreign policy

The division is often at its height during high profile student events with prominent guest speakers who are popular with one segment of the student body and potentially offensive to another. This can be an extremely difficult event to manage, especially for first year students.

This is exactly why students from the University of East London (UEL) called us when they unknowingly invited one particular controversial writer / thinker known for his aggressive views on matters of state security and certain minority groups. We advised the students about the context of the event and the issues pertaining to inviting a speaker of his ilk, such as event security, managing a difficult  audience, having a strong chairperson among other things. We didn't advise agianst having the speaker, but we did raise questions for the students to address themselves as a matter of good practice. 

The students rescinded the invitation to this particular speaker and thanked us for our support, specifically stating that they would have definitely been unprepared to manage an event involving such a guest.  As a result of our initial support these students went on to receive training in conflict management notably in the area of communication where they needed assistance in handling strong personalities in addition to receiving telephone and email support around event organisation.

students thanked us for our support, stating that they would have been unprepared to manage an event involving such a guest 

Campus Lokahi has gone on to support many student societies and Student Unions up and down the country on issues relating to student policy or student activism, encouraging and facilitating a credible and lively way forward without compromising any one group, their identities or their values.

Universities are bastions of vibrant intellectual exchange and this must not be thwarted: increasing the capacity of students to deal with the concomitant responsibility of producing this exchange is what is needed.

Mohammad Uz-Zaman, Campus Officer


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