It’s Not Just Conservative Students Afraid to Speak Out on Campus

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More than half of students regularly refrain from expressing their views on campus for fear of the potential consequences.

But, contrary to the stereotype of universities as hotbeds of militant liberalism, it’s not just conservatives who are afraid to speak out: students from all political backgrounds are worried about what will happen if they share their points of view. seen.

In addition to losing respect for professors and their classmates and compromising their grades, students also fear confrontation if their political and social views become widely known.

Problems related to freedom of expression in universities have become increasingly acute in recent years, despite the relatively low number of incidents.

Fueled by high-profile incidents of speakers being “uninvited” or “canceled,” conventional wisdom dictates that college campuses are not only overwhelmingly left-wing, but actively hostile to conservative views.

Concerns that students and academics fear speaking out have prompted both the creation of organizations set up to defend free speech on campuses and proposals in the UK to donate to universities the legal obligation to protect freedom of expression.

But anxiety over voicing political views crosses the spectrum, according to a new poll.

While 55% of conservative-leaning students say they “always” or “often” refrain from speaking out on political or social issues in class, this is just a little more than the 49% d liberal students who did the same.

Perhaps most surprisingly, even students who rated themselves as moderate were afraid to express an opinion, with 52% stating that they refrained from expressing themselves.

Rather than suggesting a liberal bias on campus, the results indicate that many students are uncomfortable with the idea of ​​disagreeing, according to James L. Patterson, associate professor of politics at Ava University. Maria in Florida, who also taught in liberal-leaning institutions. .

“I find that many students just have no idea how to constructively disagree, or even if constructive disagreement is possible,” he said. “The students seem to believe the disagreement is taking sides.

“Therefore, they can only imagine that the potential consequences will, at a minimum, alienate some of their comrades. At worst, they could end up serving as fodder for some sort of social media-based ostracism. “

Students need to be taught to understand that there are different opinions on how to deal with a particular problem, he added.

Conservative students were the most likely to be concerned about their physical safety if they expressed their views openly, but hardly more than liberal students. Even among moderates, a third said it was a concern.

More important for all three groups was the risk of losing the respect of their classmates. Conservative students were also more likely to fear losing the respect of their teachers, while liberal and moderate students were more worried about being ridiculed or confronted for their opinions.

John J. Lupinacci, associate professor of cultural studies and social thought in education at Washington State University, it’s up to the professor to make students of all stripes feel comfortable in express themselves in class.

“I think the more educators allow spaces that welcome a diversity of perspectives and then provide tools on how to consider and value multiple perspectives as part of our education, the more openly our students will share their questions, ideas and beliefs. ” he said.

Students should have the space to learn by making mistakes or speaking through their beliefs and assumptions, he added.

While the campaign against “campus culture” is often led by the right, it is conservative students who are most open to listening to opposing views.

Almost seven in 10 conservative students (68%) said they would “definitely” or “probably” take a course taught by a professor with different political or social beliefs, compared to six in 10 (59%) of liberal and moderate. students, according to a survey of 1,500 students for the student advice and information site Intelligent.com.

Conservative students were also more likely (64% to 60%) than liberal students to be willing to attend an event on campus with a speaker who had different beliefs.

But the fact that these differences are minimal suggests that while the issue of free speech on campus is a living one, it doesn’t necessarily transcend the ideological divide as it is sometimes described.

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