Sean Stevens is HxA’s Research Director

Back in July, I presented some preliminary data from our Campus Expression Survey (CES).  The CES was developed by members1 of Heterodox Academy in response to students and professors who say they feel like they are “walking on eggshells”, not just in the classroom but in informal interactions on campus as well.  This post is a follow-up to that post and presents a summary of all of the CES data Heterodox Academy has obtained to date from 1,227 currently enrolled college students in the United States (a longer, more detailed report will be made available at Heterodox Academy shortly).

These analyses revealed a number of interesting findings, including:

  • 53% of students surveyed reported that they do not think their college or university frequently encourages students to consider a wide variety of viewpoints and perspectives.
  • 32% of conservatives (vs. 8% of liberals) were very reluctant to discuss politics in the classroom.
  • 29% of conservatives (vs. 8% of liberals) were very reluctant to discuss gender in the classroom.
  • 30% of conservatives (vs. 15% of liberals) were very reluctant to discuss race in the classroom.
  • When discussing potentially controversial topics (politics, race, and gender), the students surveyed were most concerned about criticism from their peers followed by criticism or a lower grade from their professor. They were least concerned about criticism on social media or the potential for a harassment complaint against them.

Please note that all respondents opted in voluntarily through the YourMorals respondent pool2.  All stated that they are currently enrolled in a university, but our sample cannot be considered to be representative of any university or any larger population. The percentages reported here should therefore not be taken as representative of college students nationally. However, past research on YourMorals finds that group differences tend to be reliable, i.e., if we find a difference between men and women, or between liberals and conservatives, it is likely to replicate in a nationally representative sample. Additionally, all responses are weighted by gender to match the national US college population as of 2016, which was 56.4% female, 43.6% male3.

I have structured this report as answers to the five questions the CES is designed to assess:

Q1: WHAT topics are students afraid to speak up about?

  • Almost half of students surveyed reported they were reluctant discussing race (48%) and politics (46%) in the classroom.
  • Students surveyed also expressed reluctance discussing gender (41%) in the classroom.

Q2: WHY are they afraid?  WHAT potential consequences are they most concerned about?

  • Students are concerned about their views being criticized as offensive by other students. This concern was higher, on all three controversial issues, than any of the other concerns assessed.

Note: In the figure above (and all subsequent figures in this report) the Y-axis depicts the total percentage of respondents for each issue and category.

Q3: WHO is afraid to speak up?  WHAT topics are they afraid of speaking up about? WHAT potential consequences are they most concerned about?

  • Almost half of the male students surveyed (49%, compared to 34% of female students surveyed) reported they were reluctant to give their views on gender in the classroom.
  • Over half of the male students surveyed (57%, compared to 40% of female students surveyed) reported that they were concerned about criticism from other students if they shared their views on gender in the classroom.
  • Almost half of the female students surveyed (47%) and half of the male students surveyed (50%) reported that they were reluctant to give their views on race in the classroom.
  • Almost half of the female students surveyed (49%) and over half of the male students surveyed (54%) reported that they were concerned about criticism from other students if they shared their views on race in the classroom.
  • Almost half of female students surveyed (47%, compared to 42% of male students surveyed) reported they were reluctant to give their views on politics in the classroom.
  • Slightly more than 3 in 5 conservative students surveyed (63%, compared to 38% of liberal students surveyed) reported they were reluctant to discuss race in the classroom.
  • Almost half of moderate students surveyed (47%) reported they were reluctant to discuss race in the classroom.
  • Overall, liberal students surveyed were more comfortable discussing gender (75%), race (63%), and politics (66%) in the classroom than any other ideological group.
  • Liberals were also less concerned about every potential consequence than the other ideological groups.

 

Q4: WHO is treated badly outside of the classroom?  WHY do they think they are treated badly

  • Roughly 2 in 5 of the female students (39%) surveyed reported they were treated badly on campus because of their sex or gender more than once a year.
  • Nearly 1 in 3 conservative students (32%) and libertarian students (30%) surveyed reported they were treated badly on campus because of their political views once a month or more (compared to 10% of liberals and 12% of moderates).
  • Roughly one half of the liberal students surveyed (51%) reported never being treated badly on campus because of their political views.
  • Less than 1 in 3 of the conservative students surveyed (27%) reported never being treated badly on campus because of their political views.
  • Roughly 1 in 3 of the libertarian students surveyed (34%) reported never being treated badly on campus because of their political views.

Q5: HOW do students perceive the ideological climate on their campus?

  • Less than half of students surveyed (47%) reported that they thought their college or university very frequently or frequently encouraged students to consider a wide variety of viewpoints and perspectives.
  • Roughly 2 in 5 students surveyed (42%) reported that they perceived most of the students at their college or university as to the left of them politically.
  • 2 in 5 students surveyed (40%) reported that they perceived most of the faculty at their college or university as to the left of them politically.
  • Over half of male students surveyed reported that they perceived most of the students (56%) and most of the faculty (54%) at their college or university as to the left of them politically.
  • Roughly 3 out of 5 liberal students surveyed (60%) reported that they thought their college or university very frequently or frequently encouraged students to consider a wide variety of viewpoints and perspectives. This was at least 20% more than any other ideological group.

CONCLUSIONS

As the current results have revealed, there is noticeable variability between different groups of students in their hesitancy to speak-up and discuss certain issues in the classroom.  This variability seems meaningful, given the consistent pattern of results in the current data.  The CES is a tool that can provide a detailed map of classroom participation concerns in a student population, and it can identify WHO is afraid to speak up, on WHICH topics, and WHY.  Other researchers concerned about such issues should feel free to put this tool in conversation with other assessments (please go here to download the CES as a Word file), and keep Heterodox Academy posted on your findings or let us know how we can support your efforts to assess your campus.


1 = Jonathan Haidt, Sean Stevens, Lee Jussim, Paul Quirk, April Kelly-Woessner, and George Yancey.

2 = Please see here for more information on the typical sample obtained through the YourMorals platform and its representativeness.

3 = The nationwide percentage of females and males currently enrolled at US colleges and universities was obtained from the National Center for Education Statistics, the 2016 undergraduate enrollment figures were used.


Opinions expressed are those of the author(s). Publication does not imply endorsement by Heterodox Academy or any of its members. We welcome your comments below. Feel free to challenge and disagree, but please try to model the sort of respectful and constructive criticism that makes viewpoint diversity most valuable. Comments that include obscenity or that sound like a tirade or screed are likely to be deleted.