1 in 4 College Students Says It’s Acceptable to Use Violence to Stop Speech

37,000 Students Polled at 159 Universities

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a nonprofit group that supports free speech in institutions of higher education, released its 2021 College Free Speech Rankings last week.

Supplemental findings to the rankings reveal students are more prepared to censor free speech and to use violence to accomplish silencing those they disagree with.

An astounding 66% of students report some level of acceptance for speaker shout-downs (up 4 percentage points from FIRE’s 2020 report).

🔹Today, 23% of the students polled consider it acceptable for people to use violence to stop certain speech (up 5 percentage points).

🔹Two elite women’s colleges, Wellesley College and Barnard College, top this list, supporting the use of violence at 45% and 43% respectively, according to the report.

The report examined the free speech climate by gathering opinions from more than 37,000 students of 159 of “Americas largest and more prestigious campuses,” according to FIRE.

Schools were ranked in the report by how students responded to questions assessing their ability to openly discuss topics such as race, gender, and politics, and whether the ability to express their thoughts was controlled or limited by peer pressure.

The report considers the varied dimensions of free expression on campus, from the ability to discuss challenging topics like race, gender dynamics, and geo-political conflicts, to whether students hold back from openly sharing their views.

The report found that five schools topped the list for creating a supportive environment for free speech (in order):

  1. Claremont McKenna College
  2. University of Chicago
  3. University of New Hampshire
  4. Emory University
  5. Florida State University

The five worst schools for creating a supportive environment for speech (in order):

  1. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
  2. Boston College
  3. Louisiana State University
  4. Marquette University
  5. DePauw University

FIRE Senior Research Counsel Adam Goldstein said:

“There are fundamental questions that every student should want answered before committing to a college,” FIRE Senior Research Counsel Adam Goldstein said. “The value of higher education comes from developing a fuller understanding of the world by asking questions that challenge the status quo.”

“A college that won’t clearly protect your right to ask those questions is a bad deal, even if it boasts small class sizes or a fancy stadium,” he noted.

More than 80% of students report self-censoring their viewpoints at their colleges at least some of the time, with 21% saying they censor themselves often.

Only a third of students say that their college administration makes it either very or extremely clear that they will protect free speech on campus.

Sean Stevens, FIRE senior research fellow for polling and analytics, said the schools’ administrations set free speech standards at schools.

“The research is clear, and our experience working with these schools confirms it,” Stevens commented. “Much of the campus climate for expression is determined by the administration.”

“Staking out a leadership position on free speech and open debate resonates with students and has a real effect on a campus’ climate for free expression,” he said.


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