Most Students Say It's Safe to Hold Unpopular Views on Their Campuses

September 16, 2010

Slightly more than a third of American college students strongly believe it is safe to hold unpopular viewpoints on their campuses, according to a report released on Thursday by the Association of American Colleges and Universities. Approximately 35.6 percent of all students said they strongly agreed with that statement, while another 45 percent reported they agree somewhat with it.

The report, "Engaging Diverse Viewpoints: What Is the Campus Climate for Perspective-Taking?," was based on the results of a survey taken by 24,000 students and 9,000 campus professionals at 23 institutions of different types nationwide. The survey was designed to determine whether educational environments encourage students to learn from viewpoints different from their own.

Though nearly three in five students strongly agreed that such a philosophy should be a major campus focus, just 39 percent strongly agreed that faculty members frequently advocated the need to respect differing opinions. The survey was conducted at six research universities, six master's institutions, seven liberal-arts colleges, two community colleges, and two military academies.

The consensus varied slightly between students at liberal-arts colleges and research institutions, with liberal-arts students more likely to strongly agree that such advocacy occurred in their own classrooms, by a gap of seven percentage points. However, there was less than two percentage points of difference in opinion between students at the two institution types who strongly agreed about the safety of holding unorthodox perspectives, with 36.8 percent of those attending research institutions and 35.2 percent of those attending liberal-arts colleges expressing that view.

The report states "there is a troubling gap on campuses between aspiration and reality," and recommends that campus professionals continually and clearly stress the importance of engaging differing opinions.