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2019 Campus Expression Survey Report

Executive Summary: 

When students sit on the sidelines of their own education—unable or unwilling to share their views on a range of challenging topics—their learning suffers, as does that of their peers. Reports show that some students are reluctant to speak their opinion in the classroom, censoring themselves in discussions. Self-censorship in a university setting is of great concern not only to educators but to the society as a whole, as today’s college students are tomorrow’s leaders. To better understand this issue, Heterodox Academy surveyed a representative sample of U.S. college students. We asked 1,580 students how reluctant (versus comfortable) they felt in the classroom giving their opinions on politics, race, religion, sexuality, gender, and noncontroversial topics. We also examined the potential consequences that students feared if they spoke openly. 

The survey indicated that 58.5% of students were somewhat or very reluctant to give their views on at least one of the five controversial topics. Politics elicited the highest amount of reluctance (32% of the sample being reluctant, with an average reluctance of 24% across topics). Students from different demographic categories were reluctant to speak about different kinds of topics. For example, White students were especially reluctant to give their views on matters related to race. Women were more reluctant to give their views on politics and religion, while men were more reluctant to give their views on gender. Republican students were more reluctant than students who identified with other political groups to give their views on politics, race, sexuality, and gender. We also report reluctance estimates by academic discipline, religion, and geographic location. Importantly, we also found that reluctant students most feared being criticized for their views by other students.

This report offers some context for the national conversation about how and why the expression climate is changing on campus. We conclude by providing specific recommendations for administrators, professors, and students interested in improving the expression climate on campus, with an eye toward supporting students’ ability to engage some of the most challenging issues facing Americans today

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