U.S.

74 Percent of College Men Think Too Many People Are Easily Offended, Poll Finds

A recent survey has found college students were split along lines of gender and race on issues surrounding free speech rights and potentially offensive language.

The survey, released Monday, was commissioned by the Knight Foundation and carried out by College Pulse. It polled more than 4,000 students enrolled in full-time four-year degree programs. It tackled a variety of topics related to speech, including students’ ability and means of protesting, the protection of free speech rights and hate speech and offensive language.

Language deemed offensive by students has prompted calls for the resignation of professors, the cancellation of commencement speeches and even violent protests on campuses nationwide.

“There is a new class of students on college campuses, increasingly varied in background and ideology, who are grappling with the reach and limits of free speech and what it means in the 21st century,” Sam Gill, Knight Foundation vice president for learning and communities said in a statement. “Studying their views is key to understanding the impact that they may have on rights that are fundamental to our democracy.”

The majority of students surveyed responded that people didn't need to be more sensitive with their word choice. Six in 10 said people were too easily offended by the language other people used.

While the overall opinion fell on the side of people being too easily offended, when broken down by gender and race, significant divisions came to light.

college poll free speech sensitive A woman stomps on a free speech sign after conservative commentator Milo Yiannopoulos spoke to a crowd of supporters on the University of California, Berkeley campus on September 24, 2017. A survey released on Monday found that the majority of students valued protecting free speech rights and hate speech under the First Amendment. JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images

Seventy-four percent of college men responded that people were too easily offended, and only 25 percent said people should be careful with their words. The divide in opinion with non-binary students was almost identical, except 74 percent responded that people need to be more careful with their language. Twenty-four percent of non-binary students responded people were too easily offended. 

College women were almost evenly split on the subject, with 51 percent saying people were too easily offended and 48 percent agreeing that people should be more careful with their language.

The survey's results were also broken down by race. When respondents were asked if people should be more careful to avoid offending those with different backgrounds, the survey found:

  • Black college students: 57 percent agreed
  • Hispanic college students: 38 percent agreed
  • Asian and Pacific Islander students: 38 percent agreed
  • White students: 35 percent agreed

The majority of religious and nonreligious students disagreed that people need to be more careful about their language, except Jewish students, which responded with a majority of 57 percent that people needed to be more careful.

The possibility of offending people with a person's language carried over onto campus environments as well. More than two-thirds of those surveyed said the climate on their campus prevented students from expressing their true opinions because it might offend their classmates.

The belief that campus climate prevented students from voicing their opinions included almost three-fourths of male college students and two-thirds of female college students. Only 43 percent of non-binary students agreed.

Overall the survey concluded that the majority of students supported protecting speech and generally agreed that hate speech should be protected by the First Amendment. However, the divisions based on political affiliation, race, gender and sexual orientation demonstrated “rifts within campus communities.”

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