College Students Clueless on First Amendment, Think Violence Against Opposing Ideas Acceptable

Well, that’s “higher” education for you.

A new survey published by The Brookings Institution sheds a very dark light on the minds of today’s college student when it comes to free speech and perceptions of what is, and isn’t, covered under the First Amendment.

Senior Fellow John Villasenor explains the study:

To explore the critical issue of the First Amendment on college campuses, during the second half of August, I conducted a national survey of 1,500 current undergraduate students at U.S. four-year colleges and universities. The survey population was geographically diverse, with respondents from 49 states and the District of Columbia…

The survey results establish with data what has been clear anecdotally to anyone who has been observing campus dynamics in recent years: Freedom of expression is deeply imperiled on U.S. campuses. In fact, despite protestations to the contrary (often with statements like “we fully support the First Amendment, but…), freedom of expression is clearly not, in practice, available on many campuses, including many public campuses that have First Amendment obligations.

The survey, which can be read in detail here, highlights the devastating impact teaching things like gender studies and feminist dance history has had on incoming students. A progressive curriculum has left students utterly clueless to what the Constitution they live under says. Leaving these young adults to bask in their feelings has done a huge disservice to them.

Here is Villasenor’s conclusion to the findings:

[M]any students have an overly narrow view of the extent of freedom of expression. For example, a very significant percentage of students hold the view that hate speech is unprotected. In addition, a surprisingly large fraction of students [19%] believe it is acceptable to act—including resorting to violence—to shut down expression they consider offensive. And a majority of students appear to want an environment that shields them from being exposed to views they might find offensive.

But what can be done to reverse the destruction of these young minds?

Villasenor writes, “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. And, I would hope that we can do a better job at convincing current and future college students that the best way to respond to offensive speech is with vigorous debate, or peaceful protest—and not, as many seem to believe, with violence.”


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