Survey: 49% of College Students Feel ‘Intimidated’ When Expressing Beliefs Different From Professors

Barbara Hollingsworth | October 27, 2015 | 11:43am EDT
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Yale University students stroll on the school's New Haven, CT campus. (AP photo)

( – Forty-nine percent of U.S. college students admit they feel “intimidated” when they express beliefs or opinions that differ from their professors, according to a new nationwide survey of 800 undergraduates.

When researchers asked: “Have you felt intimidated to share your ideas, opinions or beliefs in class because they were different than your professors and course instructors?” 49 percent responded that they did, including 14 percent who said this happens “frequently”.

Fifty percent of survey respondents also said they felt intimidated by classmates when sharing different or unpopular beliefs.

The vast majority (95 percent) of students surveyed said that the issue of free speech is “important” to them, and 87 percent agree that listening to those with whom they disagree has educational value.

However, despite their strong support for free speech, a majority (51 percent) of students favor on-campus speech codes even though only one in 10 believes that colleges should regulate speech even more than they do now.

More than half (52 percent) of the students surveyed think that their college or university should forbid certain people with a history of “hate speech” from speaking on campus even though the same percentage also believes that the First Amendment does not make an exception for speech that some consider “hateful”.

And nearly three-quarters of student respondents (72 percent) favor disciplinary action for “any student or faculty member on campus who uses language that is considered racist, sexist, homophobic or otherwise offensive.”

According to a demographic profile of students who agreed to take the online survey, 44 percent described themselves as “liberal”, 32 percent as “moderate”, and 20 percent as “conservative”. Forty-two percent said they were Democrats, 29 percent identified as Independents, and 26 percent as Republicans.

The survey was sponsored by the William F. Buckley Jr. Program at Yale University, which was founded “to increase intellectual diversity” at the Ivy League school and other college campuses. It was conducted by McLaughlin & Associates between September 19th and 28th.

 “The survey results confirmed some of what we expected, but they also revealed troubling surprises,” executive director Lauren Noble said. “It is the opinion of the Buckley Program that university campuses are best served by free and open speech, but lamentably, that opinion is anything but unanimous.” 

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