Gallup-Knight Foundation Survey Finds College Students Show Strong Support for First Amendment but Favor Diversity and Inclusion Over Free Speech
March 12, 2018

As tensions surrounding diversity, inclusion, and freedom of expression remain high on college and university campuses, a new report​​ to be presented at ACE2018, ACE’s 100th Annual meeting, reveals that U.S. college students show strong support for the First Amendment, but favor some restrictions on free speech rights to foster a diverse environment. 

The survey’s findings will be presented during the closing plenary session titled, “Free Speech on Campus: What Students Think and How We Respond.”

The Gallup survey was released today by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and also sponsored by ACE, the Charles Koch Foundation, and the Stanton Foundation. It polled 3,014 U.S. college students and builds on a 2016 study by Gallup, Knight Foundation, and the Newseum Institute.

The report reveals that while students still overwhelmingly support an open learning environment on campus that allows all types of speech (70 percent) versus one that puts limits on offensive speech (29 percent), the percentage of those who support allowing all types of speech has dropped since 2016, from 78 percent.

The majority of college students say protecting free speech rights (56 percent) and promoting a diverse and inclusive society (52 percent) are both extremely important to democracy. But when asked which was more important, students prioritized by a narrow margin diversity and inclusion over free speech, 53 percent to 46 percent. 

Students are now far more concerned about the security of First Amendment rights. Sixty-four percent of college students say freedom of speech is secure, down from 73 percent in 2016; 60 percent, down from 81 percent, say freedom of the press is secure. The decline is largely driven by political affiliation, with students who identify as Democrats showing drastic declines, independents showing sizeable declines, and Republican perceptions about First Amendment rights security largely unchanged.

“Like the 2016 student survey presented by Gallup and the Knight Foundation, the 2018 findings are a fascinating window into student beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors that will spark productive discussions among higher education leaders,” said ACE President Ted Mitchell. “To see how views have shifted in just the last two years—and gain these new insights into students’ overall perspectives on balancing diversity, inclusion, and expression, shows the continuing challenge of ensuring a rigorous exchange of ideas in an environment that recognizes and respects diverse views on campuses.”

In addition to the security of free speech rights and a focus on diversity and inclusion, the new survey examines the evolution of student attitudes about the First Amendment in light of current debates, exploring issues such as whether college students ever consider violence or shouting down speakers acceptable, student trust in the press, and social media’s role in advancing or limiting free speech on campus.

For more detailed findings, please click here to read the report.