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Using Violence to Silence? College Students Say Yes

Poll suggests college students increasingly believe protest violence is justified.

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A poll by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, Real Clear Education, and College Pulse asked approximately 20,000 students at 55 campuses across America about their current attitudes on the First Amendment, censorship, tolerance, and self-expression.

Violent Suppression Is Becoming Fashionable

The survey asked students about what they think they should do about public speakers who express controversial or unpleasant views. Is ripping down posters, blocking speakers from speaking, shouting them down if they do speak, blocking audience members from entering, and even using violence to stop an event acceptable?

Almost 20% of the students polled felt that such actions – including the use of violence – were justified. Just 82% of students felt that violence was “never justified.” So, a subset of undergraduate students condones violence against dissenting viewpoints they find unacceptable. The attitude is quickly becoming more common – in a country where freedom of speech has been a bedrock value since its founding.

This information comes after violent protests caused $100,000 in damage at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2017 over a lecture by right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos. That same year, Berkeley blocked political commentator Ann Coulter from speaking, and Ben Shapiro had to reschedule his appearance there based on violent protests in opposition to his speech.

Pressure to Self-Censor

The poll also revealed that self-censorship is growing on campuses, which is felt by students of all political stripes, but most acutely by college conservatives. 72% of conservatives reported self-censorship in response to dominant attitudes on campus, while 55% of liberals felt likewise. At 71%, DePauw University had the highest number of students reporting self-censorship, with 94% of campus conservatives at DePauw admitting to quelling their political opinions.

The poll demonstrated that more than the one-third of respondents from Ivy league schools felt it was “sometimes” or “always” acceptable to shout down a speaker with whom they disagreed versus 27% at non-Ivy League schools.

Of the 55 schools polled, the institutions with the highest overall scores for the positive perceptions of freedom of speech were Kansas State University, the University of Chicago, Arizona State University, Texas A&M University, and the University of California (Los Angeles.) And the schools for which the inverse was true included Syracuse University, Dartmouth University, Louisiana State University, the University of Texas at Austin, and DePauw University.

Pennel bird is a writer, educator, musician, husband, and father who currently lives in Glendale, CA. He is a Political Contributor for He likes Pina Coladas and getting caught in the rain.

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