The percentage of college students who believe the political and social climate on their campus prevents people from expressing themselves freely has risen from 54.7 percent in 2019 to 63.5 percent in 2021, according to a new survey conducted by Heterodox Academy.
At the same time, according to a non-partisan education research organization, in 2020 about 41 percent described themselves as reluctant to talk freely about something considered controversial. The survey also found that 39.5 percent of students were reluctant to discuss political issues freely in 2021, and 30.5 percent and 31.8 percent of students were reluctant to discuss religious issues in those years, respectively.
The survey found that students still favored free expression between themselves and others on campus, with the percentage of those who support it rising from 85.4 percent in 2020 to 87.4 percent in 2021.
The Heterodox Academy noted that the results coincided with the controversial events surrounding the 2020 presidential election when Americans were deeply politically polarized.
The results of the survey have raised concerns among observers about the impact of perceived expression on college campuses and whether that perception is implicit.
The survey report “points to a paradox,” said Jacqueline Pfeiffer Merrill, director of the Campaign Free Expression Project at the Center for Bilateral Policy. “It says that students value open speech and free expression and at the same time it reports a crisis-level killing of speech. We all need to focus on this paradox; That’s the decent thing to do, and it should end there. “
Shawn Stevens, a senior research fellow in polling and analysis at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a campus civil liberties watchdog group, said the Heterodox survey and similar findings in recent years have been similar to those of FIRE and Knight Foundation. .
“At the end of the day, a significant portion of students, regardless of their population, find it difficult to discuss specific topics on campus,” he said.
Stevens designed the first Heterodox student survey in 2019 before joining FIRE and analyzed 2020 results for FIRE last year. In that analysis, he described the climate of student expression as “suffocating”, saying that new surveys indicate that characterization is still appropriate.
He said the college campus should be a place where people can speak freely.
“If you’re concerned about higher education, you should be concerned about some of these results, because no matter what the survey does, they seem to be quite consistent.”
Elizabeth Nihous, a senior fellow at the National Center for Free Speech, said the 4,310 students surveyed over a three-year period reflected how they answered questions, but did not give specific reasons for students’ reluctance to speak openly about their beliefs. And civic engagement at the University of California, Berkeley.
Nihaus, an associate professor of education administration at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, said he did not want to cast doubt on the survey or the purpose of the Heterodox Academy, questioning whether the survey’s answers painted a true picture. What students believe.
“I think the influential narrative is about politics – it’s about silencing Republican or conservative students on campus,” Nihaus said. “But I have my doubts about whether it reflects reality or makes it a reality.”
His biggest concern is that misguided people will use the survey results and others will go further in bad faith and in conservative circles to repeat the description that American colleges and universities have largely become liberal bases of leftist administrators and faculty members impose their personal political beliefs on students. And punishing those who do not agree with them.
“I think we need to think about what our motivations are for creating a narrative style around student self-censorship and political silence,” said Nihaus, whose research paper was a 2020-21 fellow at the UC Berkeley Center on “self-censorship or just being nice: Understand the decisions of college students about classroom lectures.
John K. Wilson, a former Fellow of the Berkeley Center, echoed his concerns, arguing in an opinion piece. Inside higher ed A student survey on self-censorship in January “does not provide any specific evidence of repression.”
Niehaus said many other factors influence how students answer questions for such surveys that are difficult to judge from the answers. These factors include the context of the student’s mental health and the context in which they are reluctant to discuss specific topics, such as a class where the controversial topic is unrelated or irrelevant to coursework.
Her research focuses on longer, more subtle conversations with students, she adds, rather than recording answers to questions.
“We, as educators, live in that world of measuring controversial social and political discourse. Students do not live in that world, ”he said. “So 20 different students can read the questions and interpret them in 20 different ways.”
Kyle Vitaly, director of programming at the Heterodox Academy, said the authors of the Heterodox survey worked hard to refine the questions asked during the Covid-19 epidemic in 2020 and 2021 to make sure they accurately captured why students felt the way they did and what the reasons were. Influences their answers.
“We want to stay above the culture war,” Vitalle said, adding that he was concerned about whether the survey itself was a valid indication of students’ feelings. “At the end of the day, it’s a tool.”
New data from the survey over the past two years include the way students self-identified – 5 percent in 2021 compared to 0.2 percent in 2021 and 4.3 percent in 2021 as transgender compared to 1.4 percent in the previous year.
“The more our data can identify the countless lenses people carry with them, the more we can reflect them and they can reflect it to others on campus,” Vitale said.
The survey report emphasizes that the effects of epidemics have played a significant role in survey results and how they can be interpreted, as lockdown and isolation of virtual education also keep students away from their background and upbringing.
“It’s a powerful cocktail of loneliness and media bombardment,” says Vitale, noting students ’increased exposure to social media and other messaging while alone and away from campus. “It overloaded our sense of isolation and our tribal feeling.”
Merrill also acknowledged the students ’emotional distress during the epidemic and suggested that anyone working to promote free speech on campus must include students’ mental health needs as part of those strategies. Her biggest concern, though, is that students are leaving college unprepared for a significant portion of adult public life – being able to engage in reasoned, respectable discourse with dissenting opinions – and colleges failing to prepare them.
“If nearly two-thirds of students feel they are restricted to independent expression on campus, then we are really missing out on achieving the civic mission of higher education,” Merrill said. “We are not making it safe or comfortable for scholars to engage in research agendas that prepare students to participate in productive, or pluralistic democracies.”
“We are not going to overcome this culture of polarization if our leaders do not learn how to talk about it when they are undergraduates, which is the prime time to develop these skills.”