Millennials Are Snowflakes: Here's the Data to Prove It

This article first appeared on the American Enterprise Institute site.

Last week, Antifa succeeded in forcing UC Berkeley to spend $600,000 on security for a speech by #NeverTrump conservative Ben Shapiro — effectively imposing a $600,000 tax on conservative speech on campus.

As I recently pointed out here, this will have a chilling effect on free speech on campuses across the nation, with student groups inviting fewer conservative speakers.

It seems that's alright with today's college students, whose understanding of the First Amendment and commitment to free speech appears to be more in line with Antifa than the Founding Fathers.

A new study from our neighbors at the Brookings Institution found that a majority of college students are perfectly fine with silencing speech they find offensive, and want their schools to be "safe spaces" where "offensive" speech is prohibited.

And a surprisingly large number of students support using violence to do so.

Students at the WE Day UN at The Theater at Madison Square Garden on September 20, 2017 in New York City. Monica Schipper/Getty

Brookings scholar John Villasenor conducted a national survey of 1,500 current undergraduate students at US four-year colleges and universities. He reports: "The survey results establish with data what has been clear anecdotally to anyone who has been observing campus dynamics in recent years: Freedom of expression is deeply imperiled on U.S. campuses."

Here are the most shocking results:

A stunning number of students have no understanding of the First Amendment

For example, a 44 percent plurality of students believe that the First Amendment does not protect "hate speech" while just 39 percent say it does.


Of course, the Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that "hate speech" is protected by the First Amendment. Moreover, the definition of "hate speech" in the eyes of many college students is quite broad. Many argued that Ben Shapiro represents "hate speech," which is patently absurd.

I have been accused of Islamophobia for my campus lectures on the battle against Islamic radicalism — a term that many students consider "hate speech" in and of itself. Left-wing students today regularly chant "speech is violence" — so it is likely that the students answering the survey question did not necessarily have neo-Nazis in mind when they claimed that hate speech is not constitutionally protected.

Moreover, a whopping 62 percent of students mistakenly believe that a group inviting a controversial speaker is legally required under the First Amendment to invite a speaker expressing an opposing view.


Put aside the fact that students get the "opposing view" in their classrooms every single day. The utter lack of understanding of our Constitution here is simply stunning. Our education system has utterly failed in teaching the next generation the constitutional principles on which this nation was founded.

When Charles Murray spoke at Middlebury earlier this year, a group of left-wing students in a pre-planned protest, stood up, turned their backs chanted, "Racist, sexist, anti-Gay, Charles Murray go away" and, "Your message . . . is hatred . . . we will not tolerate it."

Charles was forced to leave the lecture hall and deliver his message in a studio by closed circuit TV. Even then, students surrounded the studio, audibly chanting and pounding on the walls.

It turns out a majority of American college students think this behavior is acceptable. According to the Brookings survey, 51 percent of students believe that it is just fine to shout down a speaker with whom they disagree and prevent them from presenting their views. Among left-leaning students, the number who believe it is ok to disrupt a speaker is 62 percent.


A troubling number of students believe it is permissible to use violence to shut down speech

Two out of ten college students believe that it is permissible for student group to use violence to prevent a controversial speaker from speaking. And the problem is not just on the left. Slightly more Republicans (22 percent) agreed with this sentiment than did Democrats (20 percent).


As Villasenor notes,

These results are notable for several reasons. First, the fraction of students who view the use of violence as acceptable is extremely high. While percentages in the high teens and 20s are "low" relative to what they could be, it's important to remember that this question is asking about the acceptability of committing violence in order to silence speech. Any number significantly above zero is concerning.

A majority of students believe that colleges have a responsibility to protect them from 'offensive' speech

Amazingly, 53 percent of students say that schools should effectively be "safe spaces" where students are protected from speech they find offensive. Only 47 percent want to have an "open learning environment" where all kinds of ideas are openly debated.


The Brookings study surveyed students at both public and private colleges across the entire country, which necessarily includes students at schools with a less left-wing mindset. It would be fascinating to see the answers exclusively from elite colleges like Middlebury and other more left-leaning campuses. I suspect they would be far more troubling.

Many have long suspected that Millennials are a generation of "snowflakes" afraid of words they disagree with. Now, sadly, we have the data to prove it — and good reason to fear for the day when they run our country.

Ronald Reagan famously said, "Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same."

It seems the adults who raised and educated the Millennial generation have failed in that task.

Marc Thiessen is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). A member of the White House senior staff under President George W. Bush, Thiessen served as chief speechwriter to the president and to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Before joining the Bush administration, Thiessen spent more than six years as spokesman and senior policy adviser to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms (R-NC).