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By Brett Chandrasekhar

Approximately 20 percent of college students believe that violence is an acceptable response to a public speaker, according to a recent survey from the Brookings Institution.

The survey first set up a scenario, stating:

A public university invites a very controversial speaker to an on-campus event. The speaker is known for making offensive and hurtful statements.

Afterwards, it asked:

A student group opposed to the speaker uses violence to prevent the speaker from speaking. Do you agree or disagree that the student group’s actions are acceptable?

Nineteen percent of all respondents said this was acceptable behavior. Shockingly, this was reinforced across the political spectrum, with 18 percent of Democrats, 22 percent of Republicans, and 16 percent of Independents.

Meanwhile, 51 percent thought that shouting down the speaker so no one could hear was also acceptable, with 49 percent against.

Additionally disturbing were questions of fact on the survey: for example, what the First Amendment protects. Forty-four percent of students thought that the First Amendment didn’t protect hate speech, with only 39 percent saying it did.

Related: When is Speech Violence? When You Can’t Find Your Dictionary

According to the breakdown, Republicans and Independents were slightly better than Democrats on some questions, such as shouting down speakers and protection of hate speech (the latter just for Republicans). However, even among these questions, large percentages (~40 percent) still had incorrect answers. As noted above, Republicans were also worse on the question of violence.

All in all, the survey revealed a culture of ignorance regarding the First Amendment, along with a culture of the acceptability of censorship. Many argue that only a minority of students actually engage in this type of behavior. However, this minority is clearly representative of the beliefs of a large portion of the student body.

The onus to change this sort of culture lies on university faculty members and administrators. As Robby Soave points out, if students get basic facts wrong, such as what the First Amendment protects, it’s no wonder that they go out and engage in unlawful behavior. Furthermore, if students have a belief system that it is moral to use violence or shout down a speaker, it’s up to college administrators to create change. That such behavior is frowned upon and will be summarily punished should be a well-known fact on college campuses.


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