More than half of students in a recent survey (51%) said disrupting speech they disagree with “by loudly and repeatedly shouting so that the audience cannot hear the speaker” is acceptable.
This and other startling statistics are in a new report by John Villasenor analyzing a survey conducted at the start of the 2017-2018 academic year which sought student opinions on how to deal with speakers or ideas they find to be offensive. Respondents were asked a series of questions about “shutting down speech,” and the results highlight the sorely lacking tolerance of ideological diversity on campuses today.
40% of respondents said it is acceptable to take action that “forces the cancellation of the event by physically blocking the speaker’s access to the event venue.” 23% of those surveyed found it acceptable if “a student group opposed to the speaker commits vandalism to prevent the speaker from speaking.” Perhaps the most troubling finding is that 19%, nearly one-in-five students surveyed, said it’s acceptable if “a student group opposed to the speaker uses violence to prevent the speaker from speaking.”
The survey also questioned what students thought school administrators should do in response to “offensive” speech. 53% responded that it was “more important” for colleges to “create a positive learning environment for all students by prohibiting certain speech or expression of viewpoints that are offensive,” than “create an open learning environment where students are exposed to all types of speech and viewpoints.” That means a majority of students surveyed would prefer their administrators take direct action to limit ideological diversity and treat students as fragile beings incapable of dealing with opposing views.
The other questions in the survey conducted by the RAND Survey Research Group revealed a significant lack of specific knowledge on what activities the First Amendment protects. When asked if it protects “hate speech,” 44% said no and 16% said they didn’t know. At Young America’s Foundation, we see intolerant leftists frequently (and baselessly) accuse our students and speakers of perpetrating “hate speech” when in reality they’re just working to advance traditional conservative values and America’s founding principles. This is likely due in part to the view that “hate speech” isn’t protected by the Constitution, and because leftist students and administrators assign absurd labels to those they disagree with in attempt to shut them out. This “overly narrow view of the scope of expression that is protected under the First Amendment,” as Villasenor puts it, shows what happens when the Constitution isn’t taught.
Perhaps a silver lining in the survey is student sentiment on the importance of the First Amendment. 91% of students agreed that “today the First Amendment is still as important as it was in the late 1700s,” and when asked if the “First Amendment is relevant and an important part of American democracy,” 94% agreed. So while somewhat ignorant of its actual impact on speech, an overwhelming majority of students surveyed recognize its necessity and importance in America today.
As Villasenor states in his report, “college students’ attitudes toward the First Amendment are of critical importance in determining the on-campus climate for free speech.” What we see, more often than not, is a campus climate where leftist ideas are not only allowed but encouraged and pushed on students, while conservative ideas are censored, stifled, and attacked–this is reflected by the respondents’ wish for administrators to suppress unpopular or offensive viewpoints. Clearly, the Constitution and its timeless principles need to be better taught at multiple levels, and certainly on college campuses.