I had the opportunity to spend some vacation time in Washington D.C. this month. The cherry blossoms were beautiful, the food was excellent, and I found a new favorite museum: the Newseum.
For a complete news junkie like me, it was the perfect place to spend two consecutive days. Exhibits ranged from interactive media ethics games to every Pulitzer Prize-winning photo since the award was established in 1917. The most interesting exhibits, in my opinion, were centered around free speech around the world and on college campuses.
A giant world map showed which countries had the greatest amount of freedom of the press. A green-colored country meant the most, yellow was somewhat, and red was least to none at all. It was no surprise that the U.S. was green, some of Europe was yellow, and almost all of the Middle East was red.
The other side of the exhibit held interactive multimedia displays that showcased the history of free speech on campus. Highlights included the Civil Rights movement, protests at Kent State and Columbia University, and an ethics game about college newspapers.
One board in particular intrigued me. It asked: “Should college campuses limit free speech to protect students from hateful comments?” Attendees could take a sticker and put it on the “Yes” or “No” side to cast their vote.
I watched two college-aged girls look at the board, pause for a moment, and put their stickers on the “Yes” side.
Although the majority of stickers disagreed with the statement, I really wanted to ask these two why they thought that way. Here they are surrounded, literally, by maps of the most oppressive places in the world for journalists, and they believe that colleges should censor student speech.
It was a little baffling.
So, why do college students hate free speech?
According to a Gallup Poll released on Monday, college students want free speech on their campuses but want administrators to intervene when it turns into hate speech. However, they disagree on whether college campuses are open environments and on how the media should cover campus protests.
Roughly 78 percent of students surveyed said that colleges should allow “all types of speech and viewpoints,” while 22 percent noted that “colleges should prohibit biased or offensive speech in the furtherance of a positive learning environment.”
The survey’s organizers wrote that, “Students do appear to distinguish controversial views from what they see as hate speech — and they believe colleges should be allowed to establish policies restricting language and certain behavior that are intentionally offensive to certain groups.”
However, 54 percent of students said that “the climate on campus prevents some people from saying what they believe because others might find it offensive.”
Along with the Knight Foundation and the Newseum Institute, Gallup conducted another similar survey of college students and found that they are highly distrustful of the press. Students believe that universities should be able to bar the press from campus in some instances. Lastly, they think that schools should be able to restrict students from wearing costumes that stereotype certain racial or ethnic groups.
Although I’m not entirely sure why college students hate free speech, I think it’s safe to say that the majority of them are done a disservice when administrators create “safe spaces” and microaggression reporting systems when they are faced with speech they don’t like. Students would be better served if their campuses truly had open discussions that exposed them to opinions other than their own and that challenged their viewpoints.