College students might appreciate free speech in the abstract, but question them on more granular issues, and their support softens, according to a new survey.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a prominent civil rights watchdog group, released the results of its new survey on student free speech Wednesday, a summary of the opinions of 1,250 students at two- and four-year institutions across the country.
While most students supported the principles of campus free expression, some of their answers seemed to contradict this in some way. For instance, while 93 percent of the students indicated that colleges should invite a variety of guest speakers to campus, 78 percent of those students who identified on the political spectrum as “very liberal” believe that invitations should be rescinded in some cases — 38 percent of “very conservative” students also backed an invitation being withdrawn in certain circumstances.
About 69 percent of students over all thought that a speaker should be disinvited if they have made racist comments.
Most students indicated they wouldn’t try to block an event in any way — about 5 percent said they would take down fliers advertising a speaker, 4 percent said they might try to stop other students from attending a talk, 2 percent would try to disrupt an event with noise and only 1 percent said they might resort to violence.
“We’ve seen more students prone to using disruptive actions, and we did not find that” in the survey, Nico Perrino, FIRE’s communications director, said of recent incidents on college campuses. “It may have been that we’re seeing a vocal minority. That statistic to me is heartening.”
Shouting down controversial speakers has of late become much more common on campuses. At Texas Southern University Monday, a conservative Texas state lawmaker, Representative Briscoe Cain, was unable to address students after a protest drowned him out. The president of the University of Oregon, Michael Schill, couldn’t give his State of the University address last week after student protests interrupted him, and late last month, at the College of William & Mary, students associated with Black Lives Matter blocked an American Civil Liberties Union official from speaking.
About 28 percent of students who consider themselves Democrats believe they shouldn’t have to encounter a protest on campus, compared to about 60 percent of self-described Republicans, the survey…
Authored by Saliqa Khan