Almost 40 Percent of College Students Feel Uncomfortable Sharing a Controversial Opinion in Class
On Wednesday, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) released its annual College Free Speech Rankings. The rankings are derived from a survey of almost 45,000 college students at over 200 universities in the United States. The survey has been conducted since 2020, collecting a wide range of information about the campus political climate at a swath of universities.
“Schools that have an administration that’s very strong on free expression issues…typically have done well in the rankings,” FIRE Senior Research Fellow Sean Stevens tells Reason. “Interestingly, a number of these schools in the top five for sure, have some of the most ideologically diverse campuses.”
The University of Chicago took the top spot this year, ranking first in the categories of Administrative Support (which “measures student perception of their college’s support for free speech”) and Tolerance for Speakers. Kansas State University took second place, followed by Purdue University, Mississippi State University, and Oklahoma State University. With the exception of the University of Chicago, the top five schools were generally very ideologically diverse, with neither liberals nor conservatives gaining more than a 2–1 ratio.
According to the survey results released by FIRE, both discomfort in expression and outright censoriousness of unpopular viewpoints continue to be common problems on American college campuses.
Sixty-four percent of students were worried a misunderstanding of something they say or do could damage their reputation. Forty-eight percent reported that they would be “very uncomfortable” or “somewhat uncomfortable” expressing their views on a controversial political topic to other students in a public space on campus. Thirty-eight percent expressed that they would be uncomfortable doing so during an in-class discussion. And rates of discomfort are comparable across racial categories: 32 percent of black respondents, 39 percent of white respondents, and 37 percent of Hispanic respondents felt that wariness about expressing themselves in class. More than 40 percent of Asian and American Indian students reported discomfort.
In contrast, FIRE found that rates of discomfor
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