Education

It’s Not Just Conservative Students Who Are Scared To Speak Out On Campus


More than half of college students regularly hold back on expressing their views on campus for fear of the potential consequences.

But, contrary to the stereotype of universities as hotbeds of militant liberalism, it is not just conservatives who are scared to speak out: students across the political spectrum worry about what will happen if they share their views.

As well as losing the respect of professors and classmates and jeopardizing their grades, students also fear being confronted if their political and social views become widely-known.

Issues around free speech in universities have become increasingly heated in recent years, despite the relatively small number of incidents.

Fuelled by high-profile incidents of speakers being ‘disinvited’ or ‘cancelled’, conventional wisdom has it that university campuses are not just overwhelmingly left-wing, but are actively hostile to conservative points of view.

Concerns about students and academics becoming fearful of speaking out have prompted both the creation of organizations set up to defend free speech on campus and proposals in the U.K. to give universities a legal duty to protect freedom of speech.

But anxiety over expressing political views cuts across the spectrum, according to a new survey.

While 55% of conservative-leaning students say they ‘always’ or ‘often’ refrain from speaking out on political or social issues in the classroom, this is only slightly more than the 49% of liberal-leaning students who did likewise.

Perhaps most surprisingly, even students who classed themselves as moderate were afraid to express an opinion, with 52% saying they stopped themselves from speaking out.

Rather than suggesting a liberal bias on campus, the findings indicate that many students are uncomfortable with the idea of disagreeing, according to James L. Patterson, associate professor of politics at Ava Maria University in Florida, who has also taught in liberal-leaning institutions.

“I find that many students simply have no idea how to disagree constructively, or even if constructive disagreement is possible,” he said. “Students seem to believe that disagreement is taking sides.

“Hence, they can only imagine that the potential consequences will be, at minimum, to alienate some of their fellow students. At worst, they might end up fodder for some kind of social media-driven ostracization.”

Students need to be taught to understand that there are different opinions on how to tackle a particular issue, he added.

Conservative students were the most likely to be concerned about their physical safety if they expressed their views openly, but only slightly more so than liberal students. Even among moderates a third said this was a concern.

More important for all three groups was the risk of losing their classmates’ respect. Conservative students were also more likely to fear losing their professors’ respect, while liberal and moderate students were more worried about being ridiculed or confronted over their views.

John J. Lupinacci, associated professor of cultural studies and social thought in education at Washington State university, it is up to the professor to make students of all persuasions feel comfortable about speaking out in the classroom.

“I think the more educators allow for spaces that welcome a diversity of perspectives and then provide tools for how to consider and value multiple perspectives as part of our education, the more our students will more openly share their questions, ideas, and beliefs,” he said.

Students should have the space to learn through making mistakes or talking through their beliefs and assumptions, he added.

While the campaign against ‘campus culture’ is often led from the right, it is conservative students who are most open-minded about listening to opposing views.

Almost seven in 10 (68%) of conservative students said they would ‘definitely’ or ‘probably’ take a class taught by a professor who had different political or social beliefs, compared with six in 10 (59%) of both liberal and moderate students, according to the survey of 1,500 students carried out for student advice and information site Intelligent.com.

Conservative students were also more likely (64% to 60%) than liberal students to be willing to attend an on-campus event with a speaker who had different beliefs.

But the fact these differences are small suggests that while the issue of free speech on campus is a live one, it is does not necessarily cut across the ideological divide in the way it is sometimes portrayed.



READ NEWS SOURCE

Leave a Reply

This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.