The LSESU has cancelled an event hosted by the LSESU Ethical Finance Society after controversy among the student body. The society invited German parliamentarian Dr. Alice Weidel, leader of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party and controversial public figure, to speak to a group of students on Monday, 19 March.
The event came under fire by members of the student body who believed it was providing an unmoderated platform for racism and extremism on campus. Protests were suggested as a response.
Dr. Weidel has received media attention for strong views against political correctness and same-sex marriage, as well as her controversial stance on immigration policy, and EU membership. The event description stated that “In her talk, Dr. Weidel will present her alternative and original views on the issue of Germany’s relationship with the UK post-Brexit”.
Conflict at the Director’s Student Only Forum
The proposed event incited debate over the line between freedom of speech and the perpetration of extremism and racism, with tensions in the student body coming to light in the Director’s Student Forum on the 5th March. One student asked the Director what the LSE would do about the invitation of an “openly racist” speaker to the school. Dame Minouche stated that anyone could speak on campus, but that the role of the chair as a moderator was important. She also stated that as the AfD is a leading party in Germany, the discussions could be informative.
The Ethical Finance Society defended the event at the forum stating that the topic was Brexit, and therefore the perspective of Dr. Weidel would “inform current issues”. However, this was insufficient to quell criticism from other students, with one calling out that they had only “changed it two days ago from migration to Brexit”.
A protest event, calling on students to complain to the Student Union (SU) to stop the event going ahead was posted before the forum. The event likened inviting Alice Weidel to inviting Hermann Goering, a prominent figure of the German Nazi party, to speak.
LSESU Ethical Finance Society Responds
In response to The Beaver’s request for comment, the LSESU Ethical Finance Society stated that their aim is “to confront members of their society with various opinions” and that in this, the Dr. Weidel event was not unusual for their society. The change of topic came, they stated, at the request of the speaker, as well as to make the topic more interesting and “perhaps less controversial” for the student audience.
The Society maintained that inviting a controversial speaker was not the same as supporting one, but that they “believed it is in the interest of the LSE community to be able to speak to her, argue with her and peacefully voice any concerns”. However, they conceded that they did not adequately communicate the format of the event, relying instead on students’ familiarity with the format of previous events, which typically allowed for an extended Q&A session, and the presence of an academic chair. They stated that they were disappointed by the outcome and felt the society had been cast as “guilty by association”.
Event Cancelled by LSESU
In a statement on the cancellation of the event, LSESU General Secretary, Mahatir Pasha stated that the LSESU “strongly believes that any decision about who is and who is not welcome on campus should be made by the Students’ Union”, and that “our members have made clear that they feel that Alice Weidel and her party represent racist and xenophobic ideologies which are not welcome on our campus”.