New York, NY — After administering its Campus Expression Survey (CES) annually since 2018, Heterodox Academy today released a three-year analysis that examines how the climate on college campuses has evolved from 2019 until 2021. 

The CES empirically examines the expression climate in American colleges and universities, adding tangible data to the heated conversation around cancel culture and self-censorship on campus. 

Campus Climate

Students increasingly agreed that the climate on their campus leads to self-censorship, and students’ reluctance to discuss controversial topics remained consistently high across all three years. Political party played the largest role in whether students were reluctant to share their views: 41% of Republican and 40% of Independent students were reluctant to discuss politics. Similar patterns followed in discussing race, gender, and sexual orientation. 

In spite of this, students made it clear that they value open inquiry and viewpoint diversity: 84% of students in 2020 and 88% of students in 2021 agreed that “colleges should encourage students and professors to be open to learning from people whose beliefs differ from their own.” And 85.4% of students in 2020 and 87.4% of students in 2021 agreed that “colleges should welcome students and professors with a lot of different points of view.”

Demographic Changes

There were also notable changes in the demographic composition of college students over the three years, including an increase in the proportion of students identifying as non binary (0.2% in 2020, 5% in 2021) and transgender (1.4% in 2020, 4.3% in 2021). Political party membership also shifted slightly, with an increase of Independent students (18.2% in 2019, 23.9% in 2021), and a decrease in Republican students (18.9% in 2019, 16.1% in 2021). 

“Our analysis of the data across three years of Campus Expression Survey administrations examines how the campus climate has changed and/or stayed the same from 2019 to 2021. Notably, 63.5% of students in 2021 reported that the climate on their campus prevents some people from saying things they believe, up from 54.7% in 2019,” HxA lead researcher Shelly Zhou said.

HxA’s annual CES reports have been widely cited in the media since the first report was published in 2020. This latest three-year report comes on the heels of many recent headlines about self-censorship and cancellations on campuses across the U.S.

For topline takeaways, find the abbreviated report here.

For a more in-depth analysis, find the Research Report here.

 Heterodox Academy is a nonpartisan nonprofit that works to improve the quality of research and education by promoting open inquiry, viewpoint diversity, and constructive disagreement in institutions of higher learning. Our community is made up of more than 5,000 professors, educators, administrators, and students who come from a range of institutions — from large research universities to community colleges.

Mckenzie Love
Director of Communications, Heterodox Academy