Campus Speech

New Report on First Amendment on Campus Reveals That a Growing Number of College Students Favor Some Restrictions on Speech

College campus

On May 5th, the Knight Foundation and Gallup released the 2020 First Amendment on Campus report, an online survey of more than 3,000 full-time undergraduate students, and a large cohort of students from historically black colleges and universities. The First Amendment survey began in the spring of 2016, and the respondents for the 2020 report were queried in the fall of 2019, well before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among the key findings:

College students broadly support free speech, yet they also favor restrictions on speech that target minority groups. For instance, 81% of college students support a campus environment where students are exposed to all types of speech, while a growing number of students (78% compared to 69% in 2016) believe that colleges should be able to restrict the use of racial slurs, and prohibit costumes that stereotype minorities (71% compared to 63% in 2016).

There are racial and gender differences among students about whether the First Amendment protects them, and about whether colleges should protect students from certain types of  speech. For example, male and non-Hispanic white students are more likely to agree that the First Amendment protects them than do female and minority students. Also, women are more than twice as likely as men (23% vs. 11%) and black students nearly twice as likely as white students (28% vs. 15%) to favor colleges prohibiting certain types of speech.

Most students believe that their campus climate can deter free speech, particularly for conservative students. According to the survey 63% of students say that the climate on their campus deters students from expressing themselves openly, compared to 54% in 2016.

College students  also say that social media is the central forum for campus discourse, but that online discourse is increasingly uncivil. Today, just 29% of students say that discussion on social media is usually civil, compared with 41% in 2016.

Knight Foundation