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Study: Majority of college students feel campus climate prevents free expression

A newly released study has confirmed a growing trend at American universities: An increasing majority of students don’t feel like they’re able to express their beliefs on campus.

As of 2018, 68% of college students agree with the statement “the climate on my campus prevents some people from saying things they believe because others might find them offensive,” according to a recent study conducted by College Pulse, an online survey and analytics company. This number represents a modest increase from last year.

Additionally, the study went on to note varying degrees of agreement with this statement depending on the gender, race, or sexual orientation of the student.

For instance, while fewer than half, or 43%, of nonbinary college students, or students who identify as neither male nor female, agreed with the statement, “at least six in 10 [Asian Pacific Islander] (74%), white (69%), Hispanic (66%), and black (61%) students say that concern about offending their classmates prevents some students from expressing their opinions,” according to the study.

It also found that while six in 10 college students believe “hate speech” should be protected under the First Amendment, the level of agreement on this point differs based on the race, political affiliation, gender, and sexual orientation of the student in question.

For example, students who are Democrats are more likely to desire “inclusivity” over and above First Amendment protections, whereas Republican students generally do not. The study also reported findings that might explain why college students don’t feel at ease expressing their opinions on campus.

Roughly one-third of students indicated that they believe it is always acceptable to engage in protests against speakers who are invited to campus, and to disrupt campus operations in the course of protest.

However, only 6% of students said it is always acceptable to shout down speakers, and even fewer, 2% , said it is always acceptable to use violence to stop a speech or rally from taking place.

The pro-First Amendment nonprofit organization Knight Foundation commissioned College Pulse to conduct the study. College Pulse obtained its data through its own College Pulse mobile app and web portal in December 2018. For verification purposes, College Pulse used a two-step validation process to ensure it only surveyed students currently enrolled in four-year degree programs.

In total, College Pulse surveyed approximately 4,400 full-time students and reported a response rate of 44%.

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