The Daily Mail reports that the students’ union of the prestigious King’s College London has hired “safe space marshals” to police the speech of speakers invited onto the campus, ensuring that they do not voice opinions that could be considered potentially offensive to students. Marshals are told to look out for discrimination based on “any distinction” including “age, race, and gender identity.”
The union requires marshals to attend events with a phone to record the proceedings and be prepared to take “immediate action” against speakers who do so.
The student Gestapo monitors speakers thought likely to cause a “safe space breach,” which included Tory member of parliament Jacob Rees-Mogg, who the Daily Mail reports was watched by three marshals during his talk on campus last Wednesday.
In addition to monitoring events, the marshals are also required to put up posters stating “This is a Safe Space” and record instances of offensive behavior reported to them by attendees. The students’ union is required to assign marshals to events where speakers are judged to have a “medium to high” risk of breaching safe space protocols under King’s College rules. The university reserves a right to cancel a speaker if the union refuses their entry.
According to the Daily Mail, Rees-Mogg spoke at the King’s College Conservative Association, where audience members mocked the presence of marshals. The MP, who was not initially aware of their presence, told the publication that he was only told of the existence of a “safe space policy.”
“The point of university is to have vigorous debate and the safe spaces approach is the antithesis of what university should be about,” said Rees-Mogg. “If people don’t like what is being said they can go to other meetings.”
The MP described the concept of safe spaces as antagonistic to freedom of expression.
“Universities should not be encouraging safe spaces, they should be encouraging free speech,” he said. “That would be a much better approach than imposing additional bureaucracy on the heads of student societies,” he said.
The marshals are funded by the students’ union, which offers $16 per hour and benefits including free weekly yoga and spin classes for anyone who takes up the position. In addition, successful applicants receive a pension contribution of up to 6 percent, monthly healthy lunches, birthday treats, and unlimited coffee and tea. They are also allowed to boost their salaries and receive holiday pay.
Speaking to the Daily Mail, Frank Furedi, emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Kent harshly criticized the policy. “The logic of employing someone to patrol the campus for safe space violations is to turn KCL into a mini, soft police state,” he said. “Next they’ll be employing monitors to listen in to lectures. It pays better than a bar-job so they are unlikely to have a shortage of applicants.”
Likewise, King’s Libertarian Society, a student group at King’s College, shared equal disdain for the marshals, calling them a “drain on resources” and a threat to free speech.
“It creates an environment in which students are treated as if they need chaperones and supervisors to hold their events,” said the student group in a statement. “That is deeply patronizing and takes away student autonomy over their societies.”
Responding to criticism, a King’s College London Students’ Union president Momin Saqib told the Daily Mail that the marshals were there to enforce what “is essentially an anti-harassment policy protecting both our students and the speakers they invite.”