The vast majority of students at Pomona College say the campus climate prevents people from sharing controversial ideas for fear of offending others.
A survey conducted by Gallup and the Knight Foundation found that many students at the liberal arts college in Claremont, California, do not feel comfortable expressing their political views with their professors or peers.
Eighty-eight percent of students agreed that the climate on campus prevents students and faculty “from saying things they believe because others might find them offensive.” Slightly more than half of all college students nationwide said the same. Among the Pomona College faculty, 63 percent agreed the climate has a chilling effect on potentially offensive speech.
A rising sophomore at Pomona College, who wished to remain anonymous, said he was afraid of being “socially shunned” for going against the “campus culture dogma” at Pomona.
“Unfortunately, because college is supposed to be some of the most fulfilling years of my life socially, I don’t want to risk being ostracized, and that results in less honest campus discourse,” the student told the Claremont Independent, which first reported the survey.
The study was commissioned by the college’s Task Force on Public Dialogue, which was established by Pomona’s board of trustees last year to look for ways to support “free speech and democratic ideals with a commitment to ensuring an equitable and inclusive environment for all students.”
Non-liberal students were more likely to report that they are not comfortable expressing their political views at Pomona. Thirty-five percent of conservatives and moderates said they feel comfortable talking about politics with their professors and 21 percent with other students.
A large minority of liberal students also said they are not comfortable sharing their political views on campus. Sixty-eight percent said they are comfortable expressing their political beliefs with professors, while 66 percent said they are comfortable talking about politics with other students.
Self-identified “very liberal” students expressed the least anxiety with sharing their political views. Seventy-two percent said they are comfortable discussing their political beliefs with their professors, and 85 percent said they have no trouble talking about politics with their peers.
Non-liberal students were also more likely to say that Pomona College has gone too far to discourage offensive or insensitive speech.
Among conservatives and moderates, 28 percent said the college was doing too much to restrict speech on campus, compared to 7 percent of liberal and 2 percent of very liberal students. On the other side, 41 percent of very liberal students said the college has not gone far enough to restrict offensive speech, compared to 19 percent of liberal and 5 percent of conservative or moderate students.
Students of color were also more likely to say that the college should prohibit certain types of speech on campus. Thirty-two percent of black, 31 percent of Hispanic and 29 percent of Asian students said colleges should be able to restrict “political views that are upsetting or offensive to certain groups,” compared to 17 percent of white students.
The majority of Pomona College students, 53 percent, identify as liberal. Twenty-four percent identify as very liberal, 16 percent as moderate and 3 percent as conservative. Students who haven’t thought about politics (3 percent) outnumber very conservative students (0 percent).
The political breakdown of the Pomona College faculty is nearly identical to that of the student body. Fifty-four percent identify as liberal, 27 percent as very liberal, 14 percent as moderate, 4 percent as conservative and 0 percent as very conservative. One percent said they haven’t thought enough about politics.
The survey included responses from 592 students and 146 faculty members at Pomona College. Approximately 35 percent of students and 66 percent of the faculty completed the survey.
In an email Friday to the student body, Pomona College President Gabrielle Starr said the school “must confront the link between climate and free and open dialogue.”
“It is clear that dialogue cannot be addressed without attention to improving the inclusivity of our community,” Ms. Starr wrote. “If the climate on campus is tenuous, speech easily becomes charged. When trust is broken, the call to action is urgent. As your president, I will do everything in my power to help our community come together to rebuild trust. I will count on each and every one of us to bring good faith to this work.”
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