In my long experience (including being a student myself), students protest about many different things. Some of it is irritating, some of it is silly and some of it is absolutely spot on and makes people change their views. If you asked me to define the duties of a student I would certainly include speaking up and protesting about what they see as wrong. That indeed has been the launch pad for all kinds of reforms, from well before 1968. And they have a much clearer view than many of us oldies.
My job, I guess, is to resist with exactly that voice of experience (sorry if that sounds patronising, but there you are). Protests shouldn’t ever be kicking at an open door. I disagree fundamentally with some of the demands, and I will speak up. I don’t want to issue trigger warnings because I am about to discuss the rape of Lucretia (for a start that tends to focus all that I want to say about early Roman history onto that instance of sexual violence . . . it highlights as much as it warns). And I have big problems with no-platforming. I want to hear every (legal) view on the planet and then argue with it, and no-platforming and safe spaces make me shuddering. But student protests have made me look again at what I do and what I think (have I actually talked too flippantly about Roman sexual violence? Have I used the fact that I have been raped as an alibi for doing so?) .
But one thing is for sure, I do not walk around my campus every day anxious about what I might or might not say. Maybe I am blind, but I don’t see a culture of fear in the university of Cambridge, any more than when I was a student and I challenged the norms about women etc. Though, in the newspapers, a culture of fear is exactly what we are told is the norm.
The latest example of this was blazoned in a Sunday paper today (after a report in a local student newspaper). Students at one Cambridge college were said to have been outraged by the colonial implications of “Jamaican Stew” and other such multi-cultural menus (which have nothing much to do with their country of origin). Fair enough I think, in a way. But it did rather gloss over the fact that every residential institution argues about its FOOD (this is a different version of the usual, but it comes down to the same thing). And it also glossed over the fact that there were some powerful student statements in gratitude to the catering staff. Not sure that in my day we were as good at recognising the labour of those that put food on our tables.