Survey: Almost Half of College Students Prefer Inclusivity Over Free Speech

May 22, 2019 Updated: May 22, 2019

Just over half of the nation’s undergraduate college students support First Amendment free speech rights, according to a survey conducted by College Pulse.

The survey, which was underwritten by the Miami-based John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, reports that 53 percent of student respondents favor protecting free speech rights, while 46 percent say it is important to promote an inclusive and welcoming society.

At the same time, 58 percent of students agree with the statement that so-called hate speech should continue to be protected under the First Amendment, versus 41 percent who disagree.

The survey comes two months after President Donald Trump responded to a wave of  incidents that challenged free speech at institutions of higher learning by signing Executive Order 13864, titled “Improving Free Inquiry, Transparency, and Accountability at Colleges and Universities.”

The order, signed March 21, directs the nation’s colleges and universities to defend free speech on campus or lose federal research funding.

The order declares that it’s the policy of the federal government to “encourage institutions to foster environments that promote open, intellectually engaging, and diverse debate, including through compliance with the First Amendment for public institutions and compliance with stated institutional policies regarding freedom of speech for private institutions[.]”

“In America, the very heart of the university’s mission is preparing students for life as citizens in a free society,” Trump said.

“But even as universities have received billions and billions of dollars from taxpayers, many have become increasingly hostile to free speech and to the First Amendment. You see it all the time. You turn on the news and you see things that are horrible.”

Trump continued: “Under the guise of ‘speech codes’ and ‘safe spaces’ and ‘trigger warnings,’ these universities have tried to restrict free thought, impose total conformity, and shut down the voices of great young Americans like those here today,” the president said at the White House.

“You refused to be silenced by powerful institutions and closed-minded critics, of which there are many,” he told the gathered students. “You faced down intimidation, pressure, and abuse. You did it because you love your country and you believe in truth, justice, and freedom.”

Fifty-three percent of college students surveyed agreed with the statement that shouting speakers down is “always” or “sometimes” acceptable. Eighty-three percent of college students agreed that using violence to end an event is “never acceptable.”

According to the report, “more than six in 10 black students believe that inclusivity is more important than free speech, while 49 percent of Hispanic students believe the same thing. Just 42 percent of white students believe that inclusivity is more important than free speech.”

“When asked which is the bigger problem—people speaking insensitively in a way that offends others, or people being too sensitive about others’ language—most college students agree that people are too sensitive, rather than perceiving a greater overall need for people to exercise care in how they talk,” the survey report stated.

The research was conducted in December 2018 through a mobile app and web portal, which surveyed 4,407 full-time college students enrolled in four-year degree programs.

The survey administrator, College Pulse, describes itself on its website as “an online survey and analytics company dedicated to understanding the attitudes, preferences, and behaviors of today’s college students. College Pulse offers custom data-driven marketing and research solutions, utilizing its unique Undergraduate Student Panel that currently includes 240,000 undergraduate college student respondents from more than 200 four-year colleges and universities in all 50 states.”

The survey comes as colleges across the United States have implemented compulsory “diversity” and “inclusion” classes for all students, including Tulane University, Georgia Southern University, Clemson University, and Syracuse University.

At the same time, several states have acted to protect free speech on campus after widely publicized incidents in which college speakers have been shouted down or assaulted.

The reaction has even crossed borders.

The province of Ontario, Canada, home of the high-profile opponent of political correctness, University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson, has recently enacted policies aimed to protect free speech on campus.

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