A new Gallup survey, sponsored by the John S. and James Knight Foundation and the Newseum Institute, compiled 3,072 phone interviews with college students and 2,031 interviews with adults to study how Americans feel about free speech.
The findings? Apparently, 73 percent of college students thought that their ability to freely express themselves was secure. Only 56 percent of the adults surveyed, meanwhile, felt confident that their right to free expression was unthreatened.
The poll results might come as a surprise to some, given that free speech and expression on college campuses has consistently made national headlines throughout the latter half of 2015 and early 2016.
Adding to the potential confusion, the Gallup poll did note that 54 percent of students surveyed admitted that their colleges took a role in preventing offensive speech.
If that’s the case, why do so many students feel so secure about their right to free expression? The answer might have something to do with what types of speech students feel should be left unregulated.
How We’re Defining Free Speech Regarding the poll results, The Atlantic notes,
Some American students may have novel conceptualizations of the appropriate boundaries of free speech.”]
Respondents to the Gallup survey, for instance, seemed to believe that limiting offensive speech was acceptable on college campuses. And yet, they generally opposed limiting political speech. Apparently, some types of speech deserve more protection than others.
Additionally, about 70 percent of college students generally opposed restricting media efforts to cover protests on college campuses—but these same individuals were unsure how to respond when asked about specific situations.
Where the Disconnect Seems to Be
Perhaps the Knight Foundation’s vice president of learning and impact, Sam Gill, sums up the survey results best:
In principle, college students really do favor environments where one can be exposed to all sorts of views.”]
But when principle translates to practical application—when certain views are deemed too offensive or when certain protests become too inconvenient to risk coverage—the free speech debate seems to get a lot more complicated.
Before the Gallup poll came out, Learn Liberty and Professor Howard Baetjer of Towson University undertook a project to challenge college students on a variety of different college campuses to speak out about the issues that mattered most to them. In the process, we asked them what they thought about free speech and their ability to express themselves so openly.
Watch the video below to see what some of them have to say. It might just help you formulate your own thoughts around the whole free speech debate.