For 50 years, researchers have surveyed incoming college freshmen about everything from their majors to their worldviews. On Thursday, the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles released the latest iteration of this survey, which included 141,189 full-time, first-year students attending about 200 public and private baccalaureate institutions around the country.
According to the findings, the current crop of freshmen can lay claim to multiple superlatives. Among them: most willing to shut down speech they find offensive.
About 71 percent of freshmen surveyed in the fall said they agreed with the statement that “colleges should prohibit racist/sexist speech on campus.” This question has been asked on and off for a couple of decades, and 2015 logged the highest percentage of positive responses on record. For comparison, the share in the early 1990s hovered around 60 percent; also high, but not as high as today.
What speech counts as “racist” or “sexist” is of course in the eye of the beholder, as evidenced by recent attempts to silence public discourse on racially and sexually charged topics at Wesleyan, Yale and Northwestern universities.
A related survey question, which has been asked most years since 1967, inquired whether “colleges have the right to ban extreme speakers from campus.”
About 43 percent of freshmen said they agreed. That’s nearly twice as high as the average share saying this in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. It was surpassed only once, just barely, in 2004. But in general, support for banning speakers from campuses has trended upward over time.