Survey Asks College Students About Free Speech

, Alex Nitzberg, Leave a comment

Over half of college students believe that “hate speech” should not be protected speech under the 1st Amendment, according to a Gallup/Knight Foundation survey entitled “Free Expression on Campus: What College Students Think About First Amendment Issues.”

When responding to the question, “Do you think hate speech is a form of expression that should or should not be protected by the First Amendment?” a majority (64%) said that it should not while only 35% said that it should, the survey found.

But while a significant portion of students expressed this view, the survey also said that when “Asked to choose, students — by an overwhelming 70% to 29% margin — favor an open environment over a positive one that puts limits on offensive speech.”

A strong majority of students supported safe-spaces and free speech zones but the results were nearly tied on speech codes.

On the issue of institutions “providing safe spaces, or areas of campus students can go for support if they feel upset or threatened by things they see or hear,” 87% indicated that they “favor,” versus just 13% who indicated that they “oppose” this.

A large majority (83%) indicated that they “favor” “establishing a free speech zone, a designated area of campus in which protesting or distributing literature is permitted, usually with preapproval.” Just 16% indicated that they “oppose” this.

On the issue of “instituting speech codes, or codes of conduct that restrict offensive or biased speech on campus that would be permitted in society more generally,” those opposed were 51% and those in favor 49%, according to the survey.

The results indicate that some students are ignorant about the policies at their own colleges. When asked about the existence of free speech zones, safe spaces and speech codes at their own colleges, many of the students indicated they were “unsure.” While 32% were unsure if their institution had safe spaces, 60% were unsure about a free speech zone and an even larger proportion (67%) were unsure whether their school had a speech code.

A significant portion (34%) of students indicated that “shouting down speakers or trying to prevent them from talking” is “sometimes acceptable.” Only 3% indicated that this behavior is “always acceptable” while the majority (62%) selected the option that it is “never acceptable.”

While a strong majority (90%) answered that it is “never acceptable” to employ “violence to stop a speech, protest or rally,” some students see a place for violence: 9% chose “sometimes acceptable” and 1% selected “always acceptable.”

Among all students surveyed, 92% agreed that at their college “political liberals” can “freely and openly express their views,” but only 69% said the same about “political conservatives.” Republican and Democrat students largely agreed about this issue: While 92% of Democrats and 93% of Republicans thought liberals could “freely and openly” air their ideas, only 67% of Democrats and 68% of Republicans thought conservatives could do so.

“The survey, sponsored by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the American Council on Education (ACE), the Charles Koch Foundation and the Stanton Foundation, surveyed 3,014 U.S. college students, including an oversample of 216 students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs),” according to a press release.