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The Battle Over Free Speech: Are Trigger Warnings, Safe Spaces and No-Platforming Harming Young minds?

Are safe spaces, trigger warnings and no-platforming in our universities closing down debate and creating a generation unfit for the adult world?

Many would argue that these are the fundamental goals of a good education. So why has Cambridge University taken to warning its students that the sexual violence in Titus Andronicus might be traumatic for them? Why are other universities in America and increasingly in Britain introducing measures to protect students from speech and texts they might find harmful? Safe spaces, trigger warnings and no-platforming are now campus buzzwords – and they’re all designed to limit free speech and the exchange of ideas. As celebrated social psychologist Jonathan Haidt argues in his forthcoming book The Coddling of the American Mind, university students are increasingly retreating from ideas they fear may damage their mental health, and presenting themselves as fragile and in need of protection from any viewpoint that might make them feel unsafe.The culture of safety, as Haidt calls it, may be well intentioned, but it is hampering the development of young people and leaving them unprepared for adult life, with devastating consequences for them, for the companies that will soon hire them, and for society at large.

That, Haidt’s critics argue, is an infuriating misinterpretation of initiatives designed to help students. Far from wanting to shut down free speech and debate, what really concerns the advocates of these new measures is the equal right to speech in a public forum where the voices of the historically marginalised are given the same weight as those of more privileged groups. Warnings to students that what they’re about to read or hear might be disturbing are not an attempt to censor classic literature, but a call for consideration and sensitivity. Safe spaces aren’t cotton-wool wrapped echo chambers, but places where minority groups and people who have suffered trauma can share their experiences without fear of hostility.

On November 19th Haidt came to the Intelligence Squared stage to discuss and debate these ideas. Joining him were the former chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who believes that educating young people through debate and argument helps foster robustness, author and activist Eleanor Penny, and sociologist Kehinde Andrews, one of the UK’s leading thinkers on race and the history of racism.



Emily Maitlis

Award-winning journalist and presenter of The News Agents podcast

Award-winning journalist and broadcaster, and presenter of the Gold Award winning daily podcast, The News Agents. Having covered elections in the US and UK for the BBC, she fronted Newsnight, becoming a stalwart of the broadcaster’s news output and a trusted voice with the viewing public. She was recognised by GQ Magazine as one of the most influential people in Britain.  

Kehinde Andrews

Professor of Black Studies at Birmingham City University and author of The Psychosis of Whiteness

The UK's first professor of Black Studies at Birmingham City University where he led the establishment of the first Black Studies programme in Europe. He is the Chair of the Harambee Organisation of Black Unity and editor in chief of Make It Plain. He is the author of Back to Black: Retelling Black Radicalism for the 21st Century and The New Age of Empire: How Racism and Colonialism Still Rule the World.  

Jonathan Haidt

Psychologist and author of The Anxious Generation

Social psychologist and the Thomas Cooley Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University's Stern School of Business. He is the author of The Anxious Generation (2024) and The Righteous Mind (2012). He is the co-author of The Coddling of the American Mind (2018). His latest book is The Anxious Generation :How the Great Rewiring of Childhood Is Causing an Epidemic of Mental Illness,   

Eleanor Penny

Writer, activist and journalist

Writer, activist and journalist. She is the online editor at Red Pepper Magazine and a senior editor at Novara Media. Her writing has featured in publications including Verso, the London Review of Books and In These Times. Her first book will be published by flipped eye.

Rabbi Lord Sacks

Rabbi, philosopher and award-winning author

Jonathan Sacks was Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth between 1991 and 2013. He is a philosopher and author of over 30 books, most recently the bestselling Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence. He recently presented the acclaimed Radio 4 series, Morality in the 21st Century, in which he interviewed the world’s leading thinkers, along with groups of British sixth form students. He has a number of professorships at academic institutions, including New York University, Yeshiva University and King’s College London.