On Monday 13 November, YUSU will host ‘The Big Student Debate’, the first of its kind at York, with the motion “‘Snowflake Culture’?: This House Believes That Society Misunderstands the Challenges Faced by Generation Z.” The debate was proposed in the election manifesto of Community and Wellbeing Officer Mia Shantana Chaudhuri-Julyan. Following an open online vote promoted by YUSU, the debate topic “Snowflake culture at University” was selected over six alternatives, with 48 per cent of the vote share. The alternative options for topic of debate included the cost of student
living, which came second with 13.5 per cent of the 156 total votes, and the decriminalisation of sex work, which came third with 11 per cent. Other motions proposed were drug decriminalisation, changes to higher education including the new TEF, and diversity in higher education.
‘Snowflake culture’ has emerged over the past few years to refer to supposedly over-sensitive students who are allegedly more prone to taking offence, sometimes as a means to silence especially controversial or unpopular points of view. ‘Snowflake’ in a generational context originated (in a less political sense) in Chuck Palahnuik’s 1996
novel ‘Fight Club’ to describe children whose upbringing gave them an inflated sense of their own importance. It has come to be used in both a derogatory manner and ideological context, with Guardian writer Rebecca Nicholson dubbing ‘poor little snowflake’ as the “defining insult of 2016”. In 2017, snowflake culture at university was put on the political
agenda after a report was released claiming that more than nine in ten universities are restrictive of freedom of speech. The Free Speech University Rankings drew evidence from 115 institutions and found that 73 have “banned and actively censored ideas on campus”; 35, including York, were given a warning; and only seven have a “hands-off approach
to free speech”.
Malia Bouattia, then NUS President, called the report “as absurd as it is flawed”. She praised no-platforming and safe space policies as creating “an environment where
students and staff are free from harassment and fear.” However, such policies have
been widely criticised too. A second year History and Politics student told Nouse: “The only people who fear open debate are people with rotten ideas. Universities should not
be safe spaces, but free spaces. The battle of ideas is how we determine which ideas work and which ones do not. The stifling of debate due to the growing snowflake culture is not
just a detriment to higher education but also society as a whole. If ideas cannot clash at university, where will they?”
No-platforming and safe space policies are set to be significant in YUSU’s Big Student Debate. YUSU President Alex Urquhart told Nouse: “The officer group were really keen to try out a Big Debate at York in order to create a space where people could explore and consider diversity of opinion on complex issues in a suitable environment. I think the issues are ones which have already been debated in common rooms, bars, or in student
media, but this forum will hopefully expand discussion beyond our immediate friendship groups which could be interesting. Some of the topics are likely to be quite challenging,
but I think it’s important to debate difficult issues, especially at university.”
The debate will take place in the Bowland Auditorium. Free tickets are available from yusu.org/tickets, subject to demand.