Survey: college students struggle to balance free speech, inclus - WGEM.com: Quincy News, Weather, Sports, and Radio

Survey: college students struggle to balance free speech, inclusivity

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People walking on WIU's campus. People walking on WIU's campus.
WIU sophomore Frank Saliba says he doesn't feel comfortable speaking up in class. WIU sophomore Frank Saliba says he doesn't feel comfortable speaking up in class.
WIU and American flags on campus. WIU and American flags on campus.
Director of Centennial Honors College Richard Hardy discusses free speech. Director of Centennial Honors College Richard Hardy discusses free speech.
WIU students at the student union. WIU students at the student union.

A new Gallup-Knight Foundation survey finds that U.S. college students are struggling to balance free speech and ínclusivity on campus and online. 

The vast majority of college students believe equally in free expression and diversity, viewing both as extremely important to American democracy.  But when they're forced to choose, the majority says inclusivity is more important. 

Western Illinois University sophomore Frank Saliba said he frequently holds back his thoughts in class. 

"Whenever I want to speak out in class I choose not to because I know it's going to offend a bunch of people when it really shouldn't offend anyone," Saliba said. "It's just my opinion." 

WIU sophomore Emily Eumana said being a woman makes it even more important for her to speak up in class. 

"We are seen as nothing but worthless in the community, so I just feel like having a voice means a lot and it's something that can help benefit with everyone else as well," said Eumana.

But WIU sophomore Brock Daley said free speech has allowed offensive actions to continue, like yelling racial slurs and wearing stereotypical costumes.  

"Freedom of speech has allowed people to get away with a lot of different stuff," Daley said. "I would say that it is allowed but it all depends on the climate in which you're talking about it." 

Wil Gradle, student representative for the board of trustees, said a legal right to free speech doesn't always mean a societal right when it's purposefully offensive. 

"It's society's roll to step in and say 'Hey, we don't stand for this' even if the law doesn't necessarily come one way or another on it," said Gradle. 

Richard Hardy, the director of the Centennial Honors College at WIU, said teachers have the responsibility to create an environment that allows for a marketplace of ideas. 

"If only one side gets the protection and the other side doesn't, you're really infringing on the students right to a quality education." 

Saliba said trigger warnings in classrooms, statements alerting students to potentially distressing material, prevent authentic conversation.

"Whenever someone says you're getting 'triggered' I think that's good," Saliba said. "You should be able to express your opinion." 

Here are some highlights of the study taken from its website: 

1. Free expression is important, but so is diversity
The majority of college students say protecting free speech rights (56 percent) and promoting a diverse and inclusive society (52 percent) are both extremely important to democracy. But when asked which was more important, students chose, by narrow margin, diversity and inclusion over free speech, 53 percent to 46 percent. Women, blacks and Democrats are more likely than their counterparts to choose inclusion over free speech.

2. Students support free speech, but increasingly favor limits
Students (70 percent) still favor an open learning environment that allows all types of speech over one that puts limits on offensive speech, however not as widely as they did in 2016 (78 percent). Democrats, blacks and women are among the groups that are less supportive of an open environment than they were in 2016; Republicans still overwhelmingly favor an open environment (86 percent).

3. Confidence in the security of First Amendment rights is dropping
While the majority of college students continue to view First Amendment rights as secure rather than threatened, this number has dropped since 2016. Sixty-four percent of college students say freedom of speech is secure, down from 73 percent in 2016; 60 percent, down from 81 percent, say freedom of the press is secure.

4. Political conservatives are seen as less able to express their views
Students (54 percent) are more likely to think the climate on their campus prevents people from speaking their mind because others might take offense. While a majority of college students, 69 percent, believe political conservatives are able to freely express their views on campus, many more believe political liberals (92 percent) and other campus groups are able to share their opinions freely.

5. Some students say shouting down speakers and using violence is sometimes acceptable
Many colleges struggle when inviting controversial figures to speak on campus. Ninety percent of college students say it is never acceptable to use violence to prevent someone from speaking, but 10 percent say is sometimes acceptable. A majority (62 percent) also say shouting down speakers is never acceptable, although 37 percent believe it is sometimes acceptable.

6. Social media can stifle free expression
Students say discussion of social and political issues mostly takes place on social media (57 percent), rather than in public areas of campus (43 percent). They increasingly agree that social media can stifle free expression because people can block those whose views they disagree (60 percent) or because people are afraid of being attacked (59 percent).

7. Students believe social media companies should be responsible for limiting hate speech
Eight in 10 students agree that the internet has been responsible for an increase in hate speech. Sixty-eight percent of students strongly or somewhat agree that social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter should be responsible for limiting hate speech on their platforms. While 79 percent of Democrats hold this belief, 52 percent of Republicans do. Black students are also more likely than their white students to think social media companies should to limit hate speech.

8. Trust in the media varies depending on political affiliation
Democratic students express significantly more trust in the news media now; 64 say they have “a great deal” or “fair amount” of trust in the media to report the news accurately and fairly versus (44 percent) in 2016. Republicans’ trust remains low with 64 percent expressing “not much” or no trust in the media.

To learn more about the study, check out this link. 

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