Research shows severe gender divide on college campuses over free speech vs ‘inclusiveness’

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Screen captures … Researcher Evette Alexander of the Knight Foundation … Credit: Hill.TV

On college campuses, men and women poll with decidedly different results when it comes to prioritizing free speech versus diversity and inclusiveness.

Evette Alexander, researcher for the Knight Foundation, revealed results this week from a December survey of 4407 full-time college students regarding their views on the First Amendment, which of course pertains to freedoms of speech, religion, press, assembly, and petition.

“Men and women felt quite differently on what they considered the greater priority,” said Alexander, director of learning and impact at the foundation, in an interview that aired Friday on Hill.TV. “It was a predictor of whether they would favor free speech over inclusion or inclusion over free speech.”

“We found that a substantial majority of college men, 71 percent, said that promoting free speech was the more important priority over diversity inclusion issues,” Alexander continued. “We found that over half, 58 percent, of college women said the opposite. So they said that promoting a diverse, inclusive society was the greater concern for them.”

To no one’s surprise, the foundation reported: “Opinions sharply diverge by gender, race, sexual orientation, political affiliation and religion.”

The poll “reveals that students show support for these rights, but are divided on whether it’s more important to promote an inclusive society that welcomes diverse groups or to protect the extremes of free speech.” According to Alexander, the sharpest contrasts in views were measured between the genders.

The Knight Foundation overview of results stated: “The report showed that more than half (53 percent) of students favor protecting free speech rights, while nearly as many (46 percent) say it’s important to promote an inclusive and welcoming society.”

The results also show that a majority of students polled believe that “hate speech” is a valid First Amendment issue. The foundation page reads: “At the same time, 58 percent of students said that hate speech should continue to be protected under the First Amendment while 41 percent disagree. The report’s exploration of perceptions by race, gender, sexual orientation and religion further highlight stark differences in student views on these issues.”

The overall numbers in effect say that students want both free speech protections as well as inclusion on their college campuses.

Digging further into the data, historically marginalized groups do have more pronounced views. According to the poll results summary … “African American students, gender nonconforming students, and gay and lesbian students —are far more sensitive to unrestricted free speech, particularly hate speech.”

Students, in general, believe people are too sensitive about the use of some words and phrases, and they agree that there is a pervasive fear over offending classmates that prevents some from honestly expressing their views.

Another interesting point, but not all surprising is that, compared with the poll that was given one year earlier, confidence in the truthfulness of news media is declining. The foundation stated: “Less than half of U.S. college students trust the news media to cover current events accurately. But there are stark divisions between partisans with Democratic college students expressing far more confidence than Republicans.”

The Knight Foundation, according its website, “invests in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers.”

The non-profit’s goal is to “foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy.”  Part of the group focus is to “promote press freedom and information access and ensure that the rights guaranteed under the First Amendment are preserved.”

Watch a portion of the interview with Alexander here …

Video by The Hill



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