Knight Foundation, Newseum Institute release campus free expression survey results

Free Expression on Campus

Free Expression on Campus: A Survey of U.S. College Students and U.S. Adults (Download Survey)

U.S. college students are highly confident that First Amendment rights are secure, yet close to half say some campus speech restrictions can be justified, a Gallup survey has found.

The survey, sponsored by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Newseum Institute, also found 59 percent of students have little or no trust in the media to report the news fairly and accurately. Nonetheless, 70 percent say students should not be able to prevent the press from covering student protests on campus.

This study sought to better understand how U.S. college students interpret their First Amendment rights, and their views of how to balance those rights against other considerations. The Newseum Institute hosted a student conference Saturday on “Free Speech on Campus,” the first in a three-part, Knight-funded program, that will result in a “Guide to Free Speech on Campus” to be published later this year.

Among the key findings:

  • Students are far more positive than U.S. adults about security of First Amendment rights, but black students are less confident about the right to assemble.
  • Students support free speech and press rights in principle, but a significant minority are willing to entertain restrictions.
  • College students do not trust the press, and views are mixed on whether social media enhances or stifles free expression.

The findings of the study suggest that, while the core principles of the First Amendment are well-rooted in society, what those rights mean is up for debate in an era of changing media habits, new forms of technology-mediated conversation, and important national debates on race and diversity.

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