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September 20 2017

Half of College Women Get This Wrong about Hate Speech

by Patrice Lee Onwuka

Too many of today’s young women on college campuses are ignorant about the rights and limits of free speech. New polling demonstrates just how much.

Early survey results released by a UCLA professor gives us a clearer picture of just how misguided young women are about free speech. After polling 1,500 current undergraduate students at four-year colleges and universities, researchers found that 49 percent of women do not think that the First Amendment protects “hate speech.” That is compared to less than a third (31 percent) of women who do know it's protected and another 21 percent who don’t know at all.

Young men on the other hand know better. At least 51 percent think “hate speech” is protected compared to 38 percent who don’t and 11 percent who don’t know.

This knowledge gap about offensive speech may explain why so many young women are open to colleges cracking down on offensive speech through speech codes, free speech zones, and other restrictions.

When asked which type of environment colleges should be trying to create, over half of both women and men said college should “create a positive learning environment for all students by prohibiting certain speech or expression of viewpoints that are offensive or biased against certain groups of people.” That’s compared to the alternative of creating “an open learning environment where students are exposed to all types of speech and viewpoints, even if it means allowing speech that is offensive or biased against certain groups of people.”

Offensive speech may be odious but it is protected. In fact, almost all speech is protected by the Constitution except speech that incites violence, threats, and obscenity.

Young women may be misguided about speech, but they are less tolerant of disruptive and violent behavior towards controversial speakers than their male counterparts.

A surprising 57 percent of young men compared to 47 percent of young women agree that verbal disruption is okay. They were asked if they find it acceptable for a student group to disrupt a speaker by speaking loudly and repeatedly shouting so that others can’t hear the speech.

Violent disruptions are overwhelmingly unacceptable to both sexes although for young women it’s nearly unequivocal. Nine out of ten women say violent disruption of speakers is unacceptable compared to just seven out of ten young men.

It’s clear that young people need stronger education before college about free speech to beat back the onslaught of challenges to speech rights once they step on campus.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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