Student Survey on Free Speech Paints a Troubling Picture

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Tue, Oct 27 - 4:35 pm EDT | 11 months ago by
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    A recent survey shows that over half of U.S. college students support the implementation of “speech codes” in order to regulate speech on campus.

    The William F. Buckley Jr. Program at Yale recently commissioned a survey from McLaughlin & Associates on, students’ views on free speech, the First Amendment, “trigger warnings,” and more. The results have been published, and show a troubling view of the free exchange of speech and ideas in the United States.

    Free speech -censorship
    Photo by cnythzi / Getty Images

    The survey, published on October 26, indicates that 49% of college students in the United States feel “intimidated” when professors share differing beliefs. A staggering 51% favor their school having speech codes in order to regulate speech for students and faculty alike, while 63% stated that they would be in favor of their professors issuing trigger warnings – a practice that has been denounced by the American Association of University Professors.

    By a 52-42% margin, students were in favor of forbidding speech from people who have a history of “engaging in hate speech,” while 72% support disciplinary action for “any student or faculty member on campus who uses language that is considered racist, sexist, homophobic or otherwise offensive.” No criteria was given for what constitutes “otherwise offensive” speech, to the surprise of no one.

    Also, 35% percent believe that the First Amendment does not protect “hate speech,” while 30% of self-identified liberal students and 10% of self-identified conservative students say the First Amendment is outdated. Interestingly enough, 32% misidentified the First Amendment in relation to free speech, incorrectly citing another amendment. I suppose it is easy to label something as ‘outdated’ when you, quite literally, have no idea what it is.

    The Wall Street Journal pointed out that the attitudes regarding speech on campus can be used to explain the long list of people who have been invited – and then disinvited – from speaking at colleges and universities, including Suzanne Venker, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, George Will, and Charles Murray.

    A summary from WSJ reads, “With the assault on free speech and the First Amendment proceeding apace in institutions once dedicated to robust intellectual debate, it is no wonder that there are more and more calls to criminalize speech that dissents from the party line on any number of issues, from climate change to race relations, to feminism and sex.”

    One need not agree with everything a person says to agree that their voice makes a valuable contribution to advancing the open exchange of ideas on a college campus. Restricting speech, particularly on the basis of it directly conflicting with our own views, is antithetical to the pursuit of knowledge that defines a place of higher education. Such a pursuit requires a robust protection of the right to freely express one’s views, however controversial.

    This is not a matter of forced participation in speech. The institutionalization of any specific ideology in any academic environment, from religious to political, is antithetical to the pursuit of knowledge that defines a place of higher education. However, restricting individual speech, particularly on the basis of it directly conflicting with our own views, is equally antithetical to that very same pursuit.

    The full survey can be viewed here.

    Liz Finnegan is a soulless ginger with no political leanings. Pun enthusiast. Self-proclaimed “World’s Okayest Person.” Retro gaming contributor for The Escapist.

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