A national survey of 2,618 U.S. college students finds students feel a tension between traditional academic values of open discourse and a commitment to social justice. This is causing self-censorship and “canceling” that risks undermining the credibility of higher ed institutions.
NEW YORK, Sept. 23, 2023 /PRNewswire-PRWeb/ — Recent protests against conservative speakers and state laws defunding diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives show how college campuses have become a major battleground in the nation’s political division. A new report produced by the Constructive Dialogue Institute (CDI) and More in Common (MIC), “Free Speech and Inclusion: How College Students are Navigating Shifting Speech Norms,” analyzes how college students’ political ideology, race, and gender relate to their experiences with free speech and inclusion on campus.
Key findings include:
- Fully 94% of college students agree that “we should listen to others with an open mind, including those with whom we disagree.”
- Yet almost half (45%) of all students, including 64% of conservative students, report they are afraid to express their opinions out of fear of offending their peers.
- A quarter (25%) of all college students, including 40% of liberal students, report being “somewhat” or “very often” offended by the perspectives shared by their peers.
- 1 in 5 students (22%) say they have personally called out or “canceled” others, while 38% of students say they are aware of such an incident.
- Other notable findings reveal the drivers behind clashes around campus dialogue.
“It might be assumed that students from more marginalized groups are the ones being offended and doing the calling out. But our research tells a more nuanced story,” said Mylien Duong, co-author of the report and Senior Director of Research at CDI. “Ideological differences between liberal and conservative students, even more than race or gender, are the main drivers of conflict about speech. This insight can inform how campus leaders frame inclusion and free expression initiatives. Solutions focused on shared values, not just identities, will improve culture and open discourse.”
A further reason for the contention surrounding speech appears to be that students differ in the degree to which they subscribe to social justice ideas like “marginalized groups understand society better than others.” Students agreeing more with such statements are much more likely to feel offended, to engage in calling out or “canceling,” and to see “canceling” as appropriate accountability for causing harm.
“College communities and individual students appear to be grappling with how to reconcile two valid pursuits: first, to convey empathy and respect towards other students, especially those from marginalized communities, and secondly to preserve an open discourse that allows for healthy disagreement,” said Stephen Hawkins, co-author of the report and Director of Research at More in Common.
The report concludes with five recommendations for higher education institutions, including supporting faculty in facilitating discussions around these topics and educating students on preserving free expression while advocating for marginalized groups.
The full report is available for the public at constructivedialogue.org/articles/collegesurvey.
About the Constructive Dialogue Institute (CDI)
Co-founded in 2017 by psychologist Jonathan Haidt and Caroline Mehl, the Constructive Dialogue Institute (CDI) is a non-profit organization that builds educational tools to equip Americans with the skills to communicate and collaborate across differences. To accomplish this goal, CDI translates the latest behavioral science research into educational resources that are evidence-based, practical, and scalable for institutions, educators, students, and communities.
About More in Common (MIC)
More in Common (MIC) is an international initiative aimed at building societies and communities that are stronger, more united and more resilient to the increasing threats of polarization and social division. We work in partnership with a wide range of civil society groups, as well as philanthropy, business, faith, education, media and government in order to connect people across lines of division.
Michelle Booth, More In Common, [email protected], www.moreincommon.com/where-we-work/more-in-common-us/
SOURCE Constructive Dialogue Institute