Editor’s note: The following op-ed was submitted in early February to the top editors of the University of Tennessee’s student newspaper the Daily Beacon. After weeks of follow-ups, editors made it official; the piece, submitted as both a guest op-ed as well as a letter to the editor, had been “filtered out” of consideration and declined. No further explanation was provided.
A recent poll conducted by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and College Pulse surveyed 37,000 undergrads across the nation, including 251 at our own University of Tennessee Knoxville.
The poll’s results, released last fall, covered multiple topics regarding free speech, from students’ personal beliefs to the public views of others.
The data aids in understanding the broad views of UT’s student body. While I strongly recommend taking a look for yourself, here are a few survey results that are very indicative of students’ opinions on free speech.
Several similar questions covering multiple topics were all formatted the same: Would you support allowing a speaker on campus who gives the following controversial opinion; the controversial opinion ranged, with topics such as abortion and Black Lives Matter.
The poll found student acceptance is slanted against conservative views specifically. The data from these questions showed that the majority of students do not support speakers who hold controversial conservative views.
One question asked: “How acceptable would you say it is for students to engage in the following action to protest a campus speaker: using violence to stop a campus speech?”
Eighty percent responded that it is never acceptable, 16 percent said it’s rarely acceptable, and four percent said it’s sometimes acceptable. In other words, 1 in 5 students at UTK are OK with the idea of using violence to shut down a campus speech.
Another survey question that stood out was: How comfortable are you publicly disagreeing with a professor on a controversial topic? The survey found 60 percent of students are uncomfortable disagreeing with a professor. In contrast, other results found UT students are much more comfortable expressing controversial views in written work or among peers.
Free speech means allowing others with views that contradict your own to express them. For example, one survey question asked: would you support or oppose allowing a speaker on campus who promotes the following idea: “Looting is a justifiable form of protest.”
I strongly disagree that looting is a valid form of protest, in spite of this, I would not hesitate to support the right of someone to share that view on campus. However, the survey results found that 69 percent would oppose such a speaker.
I encourage you to look at the data yourself to form an opinion. The results will likely come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the student demographic, but the underlying reality should still be concerning.
If free speech is an important issue to you, discrepancy of support between ideologies is not a sign of a healthy understanding of free speech.
Eli Evans is a student at the University of Tennessee Knoxville.
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