Posted on September 23, 2021

Support for Shouting Down Speakers on Campus Spikes After Political Chaos of 2020

Brittany Bernstein, National Review, September 22, 2021

A majority of college students support shouting down speakers with whom they don’t agree, according to a new survey from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).

Sixty-six percent of students said they supported speaker shout downs, an increase of 4 percentage points over last year, the study found. Meanwhile, 23 percent said they support going so far as to use violence to stop a speaker, an increase of 5 percentage points from last year.

Wellesley College and Barnard College, both of which are elite women’s colleges, had the highest number of students supporting the use of violence, at 45 percent and 43 percent respectively.

Sean Stevens, a senior research fellow in polling and analytics for FIRE told National Review in a recent interview that the shift is likely reflective of the national political climate of the last year.

The country was rocked by months of rioting and counter-protests beginning in summer 2020 with the murder of George Floyd. Protests for various causes persisted through the general election in November, culminating in the deadly January 6 Capitol riot when a mob of former President Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol.

Stevens noted that the FIRE study results echoed findings from similar studies by the American National Election Studies and other outlets that have asked Americans about the acceptability of violence and have seen upticks in their data as well.

The results come as part of FIRE’s 2021 college free speech rankings. {snip}

FIRE then compiled a list of free speech rankings assessing a school’s free speech climate based on seven main components: openness to discussion of controversial topics, tolerance for liberal speakers, tolerance for conservative speakers, administrative support for free speech, comfort expressing ideas publicly, whether students support disruptive conduct during campus speeches, and FIRE’s speech code rating.

The top five colleges for free speech, according to the rankings, included Claremont McKenna College, University of Chicago, University of New Hampshire, Emory University and Florida State University. The worst five colleges were Boston College, Wake Forest University, Louisiana State University, Marquette University and DePauw University, which ranked last.

Public schools largely performed better than private schools, accounting for just five of the bottom 30 schools on the list.

He pointed to high rates of self-censorship, particularly among those who are outside of the political majority; the survey found that more than 80 percent of college students report self-censoring their viewpoints at school at least some of the time. Twenty-one percent said they censor themselves often.