A just-released survey of American college students finds a year-to-year decline in support for free speech of 8 percent.
A majority of students, 70 percent, still favor an “open learning environment” that permits “offensive speech,” according to the Gallup-Knights of Columbus survey released on Sunday. But that figure is down from 78 percent just one year ago.
“The study shows a rapid evolution in student views of the First Amendment in key areas, underscoring a growing pessimism amongst students about the security of First Amendment rights,” Sam Gill, Knight Foundation vice president for communities and impact, said in a statement. “The emerging generation has a new and different view of the role free expression plays in our democracy,” Mr. Gill said. “What they’re saying is, ‘Free expression is important, but so is diversity.'”
The survey found that a substantial minority of students, 37 percent, believe it is sometimes or always acceptable to shout down a controversial speaker on campus, while 62 percent say it is never acceptable.
Ten percent students say using violence to stop a speech or rally is sometimes or always acceptable.
Inclusion and diversity appear to be bigger priorities for college students than freedom of speech, the survey found. When asked to choose, 53 percent of students said inclusion and diversity were more important, compared to 46 percent who said freedom of speech.
The decline in support for free speech comes as fewer and fewer college students believe their First Amendment rights are safe.
Just 64 percent of college students say freedom of speech is secure or very secure, down 9 points from last year, while the perceived security of the freedom of press is down 21 points, from 81 to 60 percent.
College students also see social media as a threat to the free exchange of ideas. Fifty-nine percent of students said their peers are “afraid of being attacked or shamed” online for sharing an unpopular opinion, up 10 points from last year.
But there’s no sign that social media’s influence on campus discourse will slow down any time soon.
A majority of students, 57 percent, say political discussions mostly take place on social media these days, compared to 43 percent who say conversations mostly take place in public areas around campus.
Just 37 percent of students say the dialogue that occurs on social media is “civil,” down 4 percent from last year.
The Gallup-Knights of Columbus survey polled 3,014 U.S. college students from Nov. 1 to Dec. 10.
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