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Survey: College Students Views on Free Speech, Inclusivity


For the majority of U.S. college students today, protecting free speech rights is an important concern, a new report by College Pulse has revealed.

53 percent of college students favor protecting free speech rights, while 64 percent back promoting an inclusive and welcoming society. Support for protecting free speech over inclusivity varies between different genders, with 71 percent of college men supporting the idea, while only 41 percent of college women said the same.

The support for inclusivity over free speech was mostly found among women and Black college students, with six in 10 women and black college students supporting the view that promoting an inclusive society that welcomes diverse groups is more important.

For Hispanic students, the number drops to 49 percent, while for white students, it dips even further to 42 percent.

More than 4,407 full-time college students enrolled in four-year degree programs in December 2018 participated in the College Pulse survey, supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The students were asked a series of questions on a mobile app and web portal.

When it comes to protecting hate speech under the First Amendment, nearly 58 percent of students, mostly college men, agreed, while 41 percent disagreed. The disagreement is even higher among college women and black college students with 53 percent and 51 percent respectively opposed to making hate speech protected by the First Amendment.

“There is a new class of students on college campuses, increasingly varied in background and ideology, who are grappling with the reach and limits of free speech and what it means in the 21st century,” Sam Gill, Knight Foundation vice president for learning and communities, said.

“Studying their views is key to understanding the impact that they may have on rights that are fundamental to our democracy.”

However, 68 percent of the college students agree that due to hostile campus climates, most students don’t express their true opinions because their classmates might find them offensive.

Trust in media also continues to fall, with 45 percent of respondents having lost confidence in the media to report the news accurately. 14 percent said they do not trust the media at all.

“This study allowed us to meet students where they are, engaging them on a digital survey and analytics platform, that allowed them to answer questions freely, without the pressure of an interviewer,” Terren Klein, CEO of College Pulse, said.

“Our unique approach can help our nation’s political, academic, and business leaders gain access to reliable, real-time insights into the shifting attitudes of today’s young people,” Klein added.

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