A Study Asked College Students How They Feel About Free Speech, and It's Not Good

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A new study from the Brookings Institute found just how hostile college students are towards free speech, according to a Washington Post report.

The Brooking Institute's study, led by Senior Fellow and University of California-Los Angeles professor John Villasenor, reveals that today's students show a chilling trend toward violent suppression of free speech.  

For the study, Villasenor surveyed 1,500 undergraduate students at four-year colleges between August 17-31. Of the total respondents, a whopping 697 identified as Democrats. Only 261 identified as Republicans, 431 said they were Independents, and 111 stated they "Don't Know" in terms of political affiliation. 

In total, 1,116 of the respondents claimed that they attend public colleges, while 384 said they attend private institutions. 

When asked, "Does the First Amendment protect 'hate speech?'" only 39 percent responded, "Yes." A higher 44 percent, however, said, "No," including 49 percent of females and 38 percent of males.

In addition, 51 percent of polled students said they supported verbally heckling a speaker to the point where he or she couldn't be heard -- a view shared by 62 percent of Democrats and 39 percent of Republicans. 

Nearly one in five students (19 percent) said violence is an acceptable means of preventing speech, including 30 percent of males and 10 percent of females.

Overall, a majority 53 percent of students said they'd prefer "prohibiting certain speech or expression of viewpoints that are offensive or biased against certain groups of people," while a smaller 47 percent supported "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>"

In his analysis, Villasenor says he blames faculty and administrators who have not done enough to stand up for freedom of expression, noting how important it is to instill these principles in "pre-college" education.

"We don’t need to turn middle and high school students into experts on constitutional law. But we can do a better job of giving them a fuller explanation of the scope of the First Amendment, and the fact that it protects the expression of offensive views," he explained.

Villasenor is right, and the quicker we get the jump on this issue the quicker we can reap the rewards of civil discourse.

Rampell, who conducted her own review in the Washington Post seems to understand this as well, and even opens up her piece with the dangers of this recessive thinking. 

"Here’s the problem with suggesting that upsetting speech warrants 'safe spaces,' or otherwise conflating mere words with physical assault: If speech is violence, then violence becomes a justifiable response to speech." Rampell wrote. 

Hostility and suppression of free speech won't make the world a better place. Instead, students who rally and protest to suppress speakers they disagree with would be better served listening to what these speakers have to say, so they may challenge it with an intellectual response. 

That is proper discourse, folks -- and more importantly, that is America.

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