- A new report from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, based on a survey of 1,250 undergraduates attending two- or four-year colleges, highlights how students feel about various free speech issues across the political spectrum — with the overwhelming majority of students (87%) feeling comfortable expressing themselves in the classroom and only 1% saying they'd use violent action to disrupt a speaker event, reports The Chronicle of Higher Education.
- The results point to partisan divides, with 63% of liberals and 45% of very conservative students agreeing it's important for the campus not to be exposed to intolerant ideas, while 68% of Democrats agree to changing an attitude after a speaker comes to campus as opposed to 55% of Republicans.
- When it comes to hate speech more broadly, 46% of students recognize hate speech as being protected by the First Amendment, with 31% saying they think it should not be protected, and the report also shows that 28% of Democrats and 60% of Republicans agree they should not have to walk past a protest.
The report highlights that the majority of students generally believe speakers with a range of opinions should be invited to campus, and almost half or more of students across the spectrum believe campus should be open and tolerant — statistics that show students may be more willing to embrace diversity in thought and opinion than administrators might anticipate. Of course, with the string of campus protests that have occurred across college campuses, as well as the large sums of money lost to institutions who had to pay for security during speaker events, it's still important for campus leaders to understand their student bodies in order to prevent a potentially violent event from occurring.
While the survey shows very few students believe they'd take violent action or speak out to disrupt a controversial speaker on campus, the data still shows evidence of partisan divides on various free speech issues. This is particularly key for administrators to be aware of, given the makeup of their campuses and surrounding environment. Further, this survey contrasts sharply with results from other studies, which the Chronicle mentions as a reason for taking the findings with a grain of salt. For instance, a report entitled "Navigating the New Wave of Student Activism," shows that 10% of incoming first-year college students respondents in 2015 said they are likely to get involved with some form of protest while in school, while another 69% said they would support policies that limit offensive speech on campus.