The Fearless Speech Index: Survey finds conservatives more concerned about speaking up in class

A survey of college students found many are worried that if they speak up about race or gender issues in class, they will face a backlash from other students or possibly a worse grade from their professor. Conservative students were much more worried about speaking up than liberal students.

The survey was created by the Heterodox Academy, a group of college professors concerned about viewpoint diversity on campus. Citing published anecdotes where both students and teachers say they are concerned about setting off a firestorm in their classrooms, the Heterodox Academy set out to see if they could measure such reluctance to speak up in a survey. They designed the survey to look at hot button issues—race, politics, and gender—and included non-controversial topics as a control. They also asked respondents to indicate what it was they feared might happen if the spoke up, giving them six options including being given a bad grade, having their views posted online. The survey found the greatest concern was the reaction of other students in class.

The exact wording of the statement which was selected as the biggest concern by students is pretty mild, i.e. “Other students would criticize my views as offensive.” However, one can apply that general statement to a particular topic, i.e. “other students would criticize my views on race as offensive.” It’s not hard to guess what the underlying concern is. Students fear someone in the room is going to call them a racist (or a sexist) if they speak. That is, after all, the nature of campus call-out culture.

The survey also broke down responses by political outlook. And not surprisingly, it was conservatives who were far more concerned about speaking up in class on controversial issues. From the report:

Moderates and Conservatives reported greater reluctance to discuss racial, political, and gender issues compared to liberals.  They also reported greater concern about each consequence compared to liberals.  When comparing Conservatives to Liberals, all of these differences were statistically significant.

This graph combines all of the possible outcomes students worried about (being given a bad grade, response from peers, etc).

When looking at specific concerns, such as being called out in the class by other students, the divide is even larger. Notice that conservatives are nearly as concerned about being called by their peers out over non-controversial topics as liberals are about hot-button issues like politics and gender.

There are probably many ways to look at this. One criticism I half-expect to see is that this shows conservatives are the real snowflakes on campus, i.e. they are just afraid to speak. So long as you don’t look at why that worry exists, I suppose that take may satisfy a certain audience.

But there are dozens of videos online at this point showing conservatives have good reason to worry about a backlash to speech. The far left on campus takes pleasure in calling out and shutting down speech it finds offensive. And if they decide you’re a fascist, physical violence is on the table too.

The takeaway here isn’t that conservatives are afraid of their own shadows, it’s that conservatives are aware the far left on campus is a flash mob of unhinged and potentially violent activists waiting to happen. Self-censorship in class probably seems preferable to becoming their next target.