Do College Kids Want Free Speech? See This New Poll

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A George Mason University student set up this sign and actively invited students into the university's 'free speech zone' as a way to raise awareness about college campus free speech (Photo: dcJohn/Flickr/CC2.0)
A George Mason University student set up this sign and actively invited students into a ‘free speech zone’ as a way to raise awareness about college free speech (Photo: dcJohn/Flickr/CC2.0)

In a 2020 poll on free speech, over half of U.S. college students polled exhibited conflicting expressions about the right to free speech.

An online survey, conducted by Gallup and the Knight Foundation, reached out to over 3,300 college students  ages 18-24 from 24 different schools.

Here are some of their key findings:

  • 81 percent support a campus environment where students are exposed to all types of free speech, even if they may find it offensive
  • 78 percent are in favor of colleges providing safe spaces, or areas of campus that are designated to be free from “threatening actions, ideas or conversations”
  • 76 percent believe efforts at diversity or inclusion occasionally or frequently risk coming into conflict with free speech rights
  • Almost 75 percent believe that a college should not be able to restrict expression of political views that are upsetting or offensive to other groups
  • 69 percent believe an inclusive society that is welcoming to diverse groups is “extremely important”

The poll gives educators, activists and policy makers a rare glimpse into the opinions of college students, especially those who don’t make it onto a viral sound byte on social media.

In the poll, students also disclosed they felt greater pressure from peers rather than professors in tailoring their views to fit into the more “accepted” narratives. This is one explanation for why the stats above are considerably more bold than opinions typically expressed during campus protests.

It would be worth further investigation to see how students define “safe space,” and specifically how they define a  “threatening idea or conversation.”

Conservative commentator and host Dennis Prager finds the idea of a safe space an unprecedented move in the United States. It led him to produce an entire film around it, No Safe Spaces. The idea of a safe space has the capacity to flip the First Amendment on its head, going from,”You have a right to speak” to, as Prager puts it, “You have a right not to be heard.” For Prager, it’s nothing short of an erosion of free speech.

A related issue that is now surfacing in our post-coronavirus era is the influence that foreign countries have on our college campuses and how that can drive narratives — from professors to students to the administrations of these institutions of higher learning in our country.

Just last month, as reported by The Washington Free Beacon, the Republican leader of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and six of his colleagues wrote a letter requesting documents and information about efforts by the Chinese Communist Party to infiltrate the U.S. academic system and spread its state-sponsored propaganda.

“We have been concerned about the potential for the Chinese government to use its strategic investments to turn American college campuses into indoctrination platforms for American students,” the letter states.

And it’s not just China. As Clarion Project recently reported, there is a $1 billion “black hole” of unreported foreign funding of American universities from countries including Qatar, Russia and Saudi Arabia, as well as China.



Prominent Universities Fail to Disclosed Foreign Funding

Why the First Amendment is the Best Amendment – Part 1

Where Does the Law Stand on Hate Speech?


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Shireen Qudosi

Shireen Qudosi is Clarion Project's National Correspondent.

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