A student at Aberdeen University has been banned from attending student union meetings for two weeks after posting “Rule Britannia” during a virtual debate about the British Army recruiting students. The student sees her banning as being punished for patriotism and a disregard of her right to free speech.
The story started after international students raised concerns about the presence of British Army recruiters on campus. 19-year-old student Elizabeth Heverin, in a webchat debate on the issue, wrote: “If the British military makes them feel uncomfortable, why did they come to a British uni?”
Later she wrote, “Rule Britannia,” referencing an old poem written in the 18th century that became a symbol for the British Empire, and mostly associated with the British Navy.
Someone screenshotted her comments and reported her to the Aberdeen University Students’ Association (AUSA). The student body investigated the issue and decided to punish her with a two-week ban from the student union’s meetings, debates, buildings and services.
The AUSA told her that her reference of the poem could be viewed as potentially discriminatory. The poem was played when the Japanese army surrendered in Singapore at the end of the Second World War in 1945.
Heverin feels the ban is unfair and a disregard for her freedom of speech.
“It feels like I’ve been prosecuted for the crime of being patriotic, it’s scary to think where freedom of speech at the university will go from here,” Heverin told The Telegraph.
The AUSA later told Heverin that it could not conclude whether her comments were racially-inspired.