Student activism. I can see most of you cringe at the very mention of the words, and rightly so. Recent events at Macquarie University throw into light once again the question of where student activism belongs within modern-day Australian university life. On the 10th of September this year, members of the Macquarie Uni student body were selling and wearing shirts with the slogan “FUCK TONY ABBOTT” on campus grounds, in response to the Coalition’s policy against same-sex marriage. The University’s response to the demonstration was to ask that the stall selling the shirts be closed down and any students wearing the shirts leave university grounds. Some of the demonstrators were reportedly threatened with arrest by security if they did not comply with the demands. According to the university, this was all done in order to ensure that students on campus were in a safe environment. This response and action taken by the University does seem to raise a lot of questions. Most people are all for safety on campus, and yes, students do need to conduct themselves with decorum, however, this was a peaceful protest. The issue is much greater than just this incident, as demonstrated by the events at Sydney University in June this year, where 11 students were arrested on campus by riot police breaking up a union protest. Events like these give us cause to think about how free are we to express our opinions in ways that are clear to other people, without causing confrontation. On the same token however, the “Fuck Abbott” campaign was dealt with in a way that an anti-gay protest would gain, at least one would assume, a similar response from the university. It also seems understandable that the use of strong language is offensive to many people whether they agree with the topic or not, meaning that this protest may have offended people simply because of the way it was done. Still this raises the question, what do we have the right to say or show and what do we not? It all comes down to offence.
In modern society you cannot get far without offending somebody. People are offended by religion, clothing, hair, skin and all manner of other things, but do they have to right to be offended? Yes, of course they do. This is a very important point, we have the right to be offended, however, what we don’t have the right to do is to force our opinions on others, no matter how right we are. Or do we? This is where it is a very fine line between what the ‘system’ determines to be offensive and what an individual determines as offensive. Alas, the only real truth is that what is offensive is not set by us the lowly majority, but by the people above. Until something changes, we will not be able to express our opinions if they are going to offend somebody.