Free speech or inclusion? New survey finds students want more inclusion
- A new study from Gallup and the Knight Foundation of more than 3,000 college students reveals that most favor restrictions on free speech if they mean enhanced protections for diverse students and groups on campus.
- The report shows that more than 70% of students believe in protecting free speech on campus and classrooms which favor open debate more than environments which limit offensive speech. But when asked to prioritize free speech or diversity and inclusion, 53% of students responded that diversity and inclusion are most important in a successful democracy.
- Students also responded that social media platforms should take a greater role in blocking hate speech, but this response was divided among political and ethnic lines. More than 79% of students classifying as Democrats responded to affirm this belief against only 52% of Republicans, and with more black students responding in support of speech limits on social media more than white students.
The results of this survey demonstrate the reasons campus communities can become so fragile with the invitation of a controversial speaker, inflammatory remarks from a professor or student or policies which can be politically interpreted differently by two separate groups of people. In many ways, the college campus is the premier example of divisions around the country which can grip even the most educated and well-intentioned citizens — and that is the focus that college presidents must emphasize on a regular basis. Students and faculty can hold and share differing views, but they must be delivered in public space with an intense concern for educating and not alienating various groups on campus. Some campuses inspire this kind of dialog with social events but find even the best efforts undercut by a lack of financial investment from campus executives and demographic numbers which just don't bear an authenticity behind the message of diversity.
Diversity must a top priority in word, deed, and spending, and it has to be a top-down mandate. This is done from every area of student development, faculty hiring, executive promotion and searches and in the messaging from leadership to the campus community. Walking the talk on diversity and inclusion is the only way to get students to buy into these concepts, and to show a willingness of building the same in the classrooms, dorm rooms and walkways of a campus community. And, as Savannah State University President Cheryl Davenport Dozier and Richmond University President Ronald Crutcher said at last year's American Council on Education meeting, if you recruit diverse students to your campus, you must make sure you're prepared to help them thrive once they arrive.