News & Politics

60 Percent of Students Value Tolerance Over Free Speech, Survey Finds

60 Percent of Students Value Tolerance Over Free Speech, Survey Finds
Middlebury College students turn their backs to Charles Murray, unseen, during his lecture in Middlebury, Vt., Thursday, March 2, 2017. AP Photo/Lisa Rathke)

On Wednesday, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) released a survey showing that college students in Generation Z or iGen are conflicted on free speech and seem to value tolerance and inclusion more than this important First Amendment liberty.

Sixty percent of students say “promoting an inclusive environment that is welcoming to a diverse group of students” is more important than “protecting students’ free speech rights, even if it means allowing hurtful or offensive speech,” the FIRE/YouGov poll found.

More than half of students (57 percent) either agree or strongly agree that “colleges and universities should be able to restrict student expression of political views that are hurtful or offensive to certain students.”

Even worse, more than two-thirds of students (70 percent) agree with this statement: “students at my college or university should be excluded from extracurricular activities (ex: sports, Greek life, student organizations) if they publicly express intolerant, hurtful, or offensive viewpoints.”

In other words, the vast majority of iGen kids — these are not millennials, by the way — in college in believe a student’s offensive speech should get that student kicked out of campus clubs. Even statements such as “America is a land of opportunity” have been designated “microaggressions.” If a student praises the U.S. as a place where anyone can get ahead, he could find himself exiled from fraternities, sports, and clubs.

Yet at the same time, iGen college kids insist on the importance of free speech. Almost nine in ten students (89 percent) agree that “it is important that my college or university encourages students to have a public voice and share their ideas openly.” Three-quarters of students (75 percent) say students should have the right to free speech on campus, even if their speech offends others.

Apparently, iGen kids do not see the contradiction between these statements and the idea that any offensive speech should get a student kicked out of campus clubs.

Almost all students (96 percent) say it is important for their civil rights or civil liberties to be protected, and the largest proportion of students (30 percent) identify freedom of speech as the most important civil right or civil liberty.

More than half of students (55 percent) said the climate on their campus makes it difficult to have conversations about issues like race, politics, and gender. Republicans are 14 points more likely to agree with this than Democrats.

While iGen kids seem to have lost their faith in free speech, they firmly support another right guaranteed by the First Amendment — free association. Almost two-thirds (64) say registered student groups on campus should be able to exclude from membership students who don’t agree with the group’s mission. Another 73 percent say registered student groups should be able to deny leadership positions to students who don’t agree with the group’s mission.

Only half of the students (51 percent) say groups with missions that certain students find intolerant, hurtful, or offensive should be able to register as student groups and receive student activity fees from student government, however.

One-third of iGen kids (35 percent) say the white nationalist protest and counter-protest in Charlottesville, Va., in August 2017 changed how they think about free speech on campus. While most students agree that the white nationalists should be allowed to protest peacefully (52 percent), more of them (71 percent) insist the counter-protesters should be allowed to peacefully protest.

Students’ confusion on free speech issues — praising the idea of free speech while preferring tolerance and inclusion — lines up with the erosion of academic freedom familiar to those who follow campus news. While colleges and universities praise free speech with their lips, they disinvite speakers and restrict free speech to small “zones.”

Like secularists in the post-Christian West, iGen kids are echoing the moral values of a previous generation while living by the precepts of a new religion — the religion of tolerance.

YouGov surveyed 2,225 undergraduate students between September 24, 2018, and October 11, 2018. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.3 percentage points.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.

Join the conversation as a VIP Member