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March 12 2018

Gallup-Knight Surveys College Students on Free Speech And Finds . . . Lots of Confusion

by Charlotte Hays

A new Gallup-Knight survey of college students' views on free speech contains this gem:

While U.S. college students show strong support for the First Amendment, many also approve of limits on speech to foster an environment where diverse perspectives are respected. These competing views and habits can have an effect on the freedoms that the First Amendment guarantees. Understanding them will help to preserve our most fundamental rights into the future.

The students, if I understand right, are saying, "We support the First Amendment, but we believe in limits on speech." The students seem to believe you can have it both ways.

They do not grasp that it is the right of free speech that guarantees that "diverse perspectives" will be permitted. I think the problem here may be one of vocabulary: the word "diverse" (different) has come to be a buzz word that denotes a society or enclave in which people have not diverse but the same views and ideas.

Lewis Carroll's Humpty Dumpty, who said “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less,” would appreciate using "diverse" to mean its opposite.

It is disheartening, however, that college students (and people who make up Gallup-Knight survey questions) use words in the same way as Humpty.

Here is another ironic use of diverse:

The majority of college students say protecting free speech rights (56 percent) and promoting a diverse and inclusive society (52 percent) are both extremely important to democracy. But when asked which was more important, students chose, by narrow margin, diversity and inclusion over free speech, 53 percent to 46 percent. Women, blacks and Democrats are more likely than their counterparts to choose inclusion over free speech.

Only when diversity means the opposite of diversity--protected sameness in opinions and ideas--is it in conflict with free speech. Diversity used in the survey means just the opposite of diversity, and most students want to impose limits that would prevent diverse opinions and ideas from being voiced on campus.

Under the heading of "Students Support Free Speech but Increasingly Favor Limits," we read this:

Students (70 percent) still favor an open learning environment that allows all types of speech over one that puts limits on offensive speech, however not as widely as they did in 2016 (78 percent). Democrats, blacks and women are among the groups that are less supportive of an open environment than they were in 2016; Republicans still overwhelmingly favor an open environment (86 percent).

Conservatives are seen as less likely to be allowed to be able to express their views:

Students (54 percent) are more likely to think the climate on their campus prevents people from speaking their mind because others might take offense. While a majority of college students, 69 percent, believe political conservatives are able to freely express their views on campus, many more believe political liberals (92 percent) and other campus groups are able to share their opinions freely.

The New York Times reported on the Gallup-Knight survey:

The survey, a collaboration among five groups, finds that college students feel increasingly stifled on campus and online, and while they equally value free speech and inclusivity, they wrestle with how best to balance the two.

“What you see is a generation that’s struggling with really deep questions about how to be a pluralistic society and a pluralistic campus and how to be an open society and an open campus,” said Sam Gill, vice president of communities and learning at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which led the effort with Gallup, the polling company.

Students differed widely on how to strike that balance. Here’s a look at some of the findings of the survey, which was co-sponsored by the American Council on Education, the Charles Koch Foundation and the Stanton Foundation.

College students believe about equally in free expression and pluralism, with nearly 90 percent saying free speech protections are very or extremely important to American democracy, and more than 80 percent saying the same of promoting an inclusive and diverse society.

 

The Times says that there is "tension" between "free expression and inclusion."

Not unless you use the words "diversity" and "inclusion" like Humpty might have used the words. 

I argued in a piece last week for The Hill that today's illiberal college students often don't grasp the sophisticated concept of free speech.

This survey bears out that opinion.

Diversity and inclusion--as traditionally understood before they became buzz words--are not only not in colfict with the right of free speech but they almost require it.

 

 

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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