Students View Speech Rights on Campus as Important, Yet Increasingly Less Secure

On the back of both victories and defeats for free-speech on college campuses, a new “Knight-Ipsos College Student Views on Free Expression and Campus Speech” report sheds a light on the how current students understand campus speech and the first amendment.  

The report found that only 47% of students thought that the freedom of speech was secure in the country today, a dramatic decrease from the 73% in 2016 when the question was first asked. This sentiment was particularly present among Republican students, with only 27% believing it to be secure, a decrease from 52% in 2016. This contrasts with 46% of Independents (a decrease of 13%) and 61% (a decrease of 2%) of Democrats, with only Democratic students remaining relatively stable in their belief.  

In tandem to this Republican feeling, only 51% of Black students felt that the first amendment protected them, the lowest of any racial group and a sharp decrease of 9% compared to when this question was asked in 2019. 

Nearly two-thirds of students (65%), felt that their campus’s climate stifled free expression an 11% increase from 2016. However, 51% have either felt uncomfortable or unsafe at school due to speech that referenced their race, ethnicity, faith, gender, or sexual orientation. Finally, whilst one in five students (22%) wish to be able to prohibit some speech, 59% believe that colleges should prioritize free speech on campus.