A new survey out of one of the country’s best-known universities is shedding a little light on the differences between conservative and liberal students, and the results show the former are actually more tolerant.
The study, conducted by the University of North Carolina and comprising of answers from more than 1,000 students, was first reported by Conor Friedersdorf, a writer for The Atlantic. While the survey found professors to be open to contrary perspectives, it showed students to be far less flexible.
Nearly 25% of survey respondents said they “believe it is OK to silence or suppress some widely held views that they deem wrong.” In addition, it found that a majority of students across the ideological spectrum “engage in classroom self-censorship.”
But it is conservative students who face the greatest ire, despite being more tolerant.
The study, according to Friedersdorf, revealed it is “common” for conservative college students to hear “disparaging comments” about their politics.
Students were then asked how — if at all — they tolerate dissenting ideas, and whether it is appropriate to retaliate against those who espouse opposing viewpoints. A whopping 25.5% of respondents said it would be appropriate to “create an obstruction, such that a campus speaker endorsing this idea could not address an audience.”
Nineteen percent of self-identified liberals agreed with that statement. Conversely, only 3% of moderates and 3% of conservatives felt the same way. More than 3% of liberals and only 1% of conservatives agreed it is appropriate to “yell profanity at a student” whose perspective is objectionable.
Likely due to the hostile environment often found on college campuses, a stunning 68% of conservatives said they censor their own ideas in the classroom. Only 24% of liberals felt compelled to do the same. Forty-nine percent of moderates said they self-censor in the classroom.
It’s not surprising, given 68% of moderates admitted they hear “disrespectful, inappropriate, or offensive comments” about their conservative peers.
Perhaps most upsetting is the fact 92% of conservative respondents said they would be friends with a liberal student. Unfortunately, about 25% of liberals said they would not consider a conservative student to be their friend.
“Self-identified conservative students do, in fact, face distinct challenges related to viewpoint expression at UNC,” concluded the survey’s authors, who urged the college to have “a conversation about how the campus can become more accepting of conservative students as well as more willing to hear and engage with conservative ideas.”
Friedersdorf, for his part, argued the high levels of self-censorship by students on UNC’s campus offers significant evidence “to believe that free speech remains under threat on American campuses, harming undergraduate education.”
“I try to avoid talk of ‘crisis,’ because I believe that free speech is perpetually threatened and requires constant vigilance to sustain,” he wrote. “But however we label the status quo, America’s professors ought to be aware of these problems.”