For U.S. college students today, protecting freedom of speech on campus is less of a concern than promoting an environment which is inclusive to students from diverse backgrounds, a survey has found.
According to a new report from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), 60 percent of college students favor promoting an inclusive campus environment over promoting free speech, while 57 percent believe that institutions should be able to restrict the expression of political views that are offensive and hurtful to a portion of their student body.
More than 2,225 students participated in the FIRE survey, conducted by YouGov, where students were asked questions about free expression, civil rights and liberties, free association and the 2017 white nationalist protests and counter-protests in Charlottesville.
When it comes to protecting civil rights and liberties, more than 96 percent of surveyed students vouched for their protection. However, 55 percent of them also thought that discussing race, gender and politics has become difficult due to their current campus climates.
“Students overwhelmingly support free speech rights as a general principle, but that support hollows out when they are asked more specific questions about those rights,” Nico Perrino, FIRE director of communications, said.
“This is troubling because it suggests a surface-level understanding of the free speech protections that underlie the First Amendment and an unwillingness to see them applied to the protection of expression some find offensive or objectionable.”
75 percent of students were in favor of joining single-gender groups not recognized by the university, while 34 percent called for the punishment of students who join such groups.
The 2017 white nationalist protests and counter-protests in Charlottesville also impacted student views towards protest and free expression. 35 percent of students agreed that the protests changed their views on free speech in general.
Finally, the survey found that 52 percent of students think white nationalists should be allowed to protest peacefully, while 71 percent think that those same rights should be extended to counter-protestors as well.