Short Take: Students Choose Between False Options

In a column about the gender gap, Thomas Edsall includes a deeply disconcerting statistic.

While liberal and left identification among female students reached a high in 2016, male students remained far below their 1971 high, which was 44 percent.

Along parallel lines, a Knight Foundation survey in 2017 of 3,014 college students asked: “If you had to choose, which do you think is more important, a diverse and inclusive society or protecting free speech rights.”

Male students preferred protecting free speech over an inclusive and diverse society by a decisive 61 to 39. Female students took the opposite position, favoring an inclusive, diverse society over free speech by 64 to 35.

Before you start feeling all warm and fuzzy about the guys, consider that these students’ grasp of what free speech means might not be quite as robust as one might wish.

Majorities of both male and female college students in the Knight survey support the view that the First Amendment should not be used to protect hate speech, but the men were more equivocal, at 56 to 43, than women, at 71 to 29.

To what can we attribute this? On the one hand, when did support for free speech come into conflict with support for diversity and inclusion? And when did students’ understanding of free speech morph into support for speech they like, but not speech they don’t like?

There is a strong argument to be made that a core component of diversity and inclusion is free speech, the ability of minorities and those who seek to eliminate discrimination against them, to speak out in favor of their cause, on behalf of those who might otherwise be easily silenced by the majority. Historically, few rights have been more critical to the effort to end racial discrimination than free speech.

So why do so many students perceive free speech as a threat to diversity and inclusion? The answer seems obvious, that it also enables those who either don’t support their cause, or more likely fall short of the blind acceptance of their orthodoxy, to express ideas that blunt their demands for equal outcomes.

Is this a woman thing? The numbers suggest so, which present a secondary question. If feminism seeks equality under the belief that there are no differences between the sexes, then why are there such significant differences in views between the sexes?

There are certainly sociological and evolutionary psych answers to these questions. Women evolved to be nurturers of their children while men evolved to defend their families from outside harm. Women seek to avoid the conflicts reflected in heated disagreement while men invite dispute to test their dominance.

But if we consider, as we must, that both male and female are equally entitled to value one over the other, and that the gap between these values break down on gender lines to the extent that women perceive free speech as contrary to, if not the enemy of, their more valued issue of diversity and inclusion, it portends an approach to a fundamental constitutional right that could make Orwell look like a piker.

Could the combination of women antagonistic to free speech and their male allies create a majority of Americans who find speech they dislike insufferable? Remember, even some of the male students who would choose free speech over diversity and inclusion are of the view that “hate speech” should not be protected. And these are college students, meaning the “future leaders” of America as they filter out of their hotbed of critical grievance thinking into the world of malleable employers willing to do pretty much anything to accommodate them.

For years, the answer was “wait until they get into the real world. They’ll learn.” But as we’ve since become painfully aware, that’s not at all how it’s turning out. At this curious time when females are the majority on campus, despite their grievances of minority oppression, does free speech, the First Amendement as we know and understand it, stand a chance when these students come into positions of power and influence?

I’m reminded, yet again of the admonition of Lyrissa Lidsky.

Nevertheless, I know that in the war of generations, the younger always wins.  I just wonder what victory looks like.

They certainly don’t care what we have to say about the merits of free speech, and it’s becoming clear that students have at best a misguided grasp of what it means and at worst little concern about its elimination in their quest for diversity and inclusion.

21 thoughts on “Short Take: Students Choose Between False Options

  1. Richard

    Do students really think this? An alternative explanation is that students are so conditioned from the campus environment into answering a certain way, that they automatically do answer in what they have been taught is the only politically-acceptable viewpoint in their limited world. Haven’t professors been “cancelled” just for posing questions that might involve critical thinking on such matters? College students live every day in fear of being perceived as “different”. Being “different” on campus at best leads to social ostracization, at worst it leads to courses failed, false accusations, and expulsion.

  2. Hal

    TRIGGER WARNING! – PK, I’m going to quote both Orwell and Mark Twain.

    It’s not terribly surprising that some people can simultaneously believe that “Diversity is strength” and “Diversity in thought/ opinion cannot be tolerated”. This is classic Orwellian “doublethink”.

    It comes down to a matter of faith. If, that is, one uses Twain’s definition that “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so”.

    Scott, please note I refrained from using any emojis.

    [Ed. note: Duly noted and appreciated.]

    1. PK

      I’m with the coeds. Free comments are a mistake. This is a cesspool. Pull the plug. Abandon ship.

      Even if this is mostly in good fun for me, you didn’t “quote” Orwell, you botched the application of an idea he presented in one of his books. The Twain quote is out of context and misapplied as well, if you care, unless you’re questioning the sincerity of the students who are more than happy to demonstrate their beliefs. You might as well have dropped an emoji and been done with it than this.

      Also, it’s “content warning” now because triggers are sometimes attached to guns and sometimes people use guns to kill other people. Keep up.

  3. Andrew Marshall

    “So why do so many students perceive free speech as a threat to diversity and inclusion?”

    Because the weaker factions of numerous generations can’t stand the thought of someone disagreeing with them or going against their narrative. Colleges used to be institutions that would teach you how to think critically, yet now they are spouting a one sided agenda. It’s indicative in numerous subreddits on There are far too many young adults getting offended when they have to face realities as adults.

  4. Chico

    Not just a “war of generations” but a gender war manifested in criminal law and Title IX due process battles, the “pay gap” narrative, and Human Resources authoritarianism.

    I think we’re a long way from eliminating the First Amendment, but speech on private platforms will be more and more constrained.

  5. Grung_e_Gene

    College Campuses are not Government despite the best efforts of rightwing agitators like Dinesh D’Criminal and others to blur distinctions about Freedom of Speech since 2017. The entire Traitor Trump years were ones of Right-wingers getting in trouble because they felt it was their GAWD GIVEN RIGHT to insult people and have Zero Consequences. Like Cancel Culture!!! Boo hoo hoo! Oh noes! Conservatives aren’t getting a free pass to be jerks, assholes, and stalkers. What is especially galling right now, is conservatives feel empowered to make actual threats via email, phone and in person to people they don’t like. But, since they are doing it so often now Federal, State and Local law enforcement is overwhelmed.

    1. PK

      Nuts. I’m feeling sympathetic and nice now, but that never lasts. That’s your fair warning.

      Don’t think because the Host left for the corner store a while ago and barely sends postcards that no one will notice that you’re completely insane. This is a law blog for lawyers and judges who can tell you are incompetent. If that’s what you want, great. If not, take a step back, reassess your priorities and self and act accordingly. Please.

      1. Grung_e_Gene

        I’ve meet Judges don’t besmirch them with your flaccid threats.
        Meanwhile in the real world, which you seem not to inhabit, there is this ->
        [Ed. Note: Deleted per rules.]
        And this ->
        [Ed. Note: And this.]
        No wonder Radley Balko unfriended the “person” who runs this site of malfeasance and fraud.

        Bye. Don’t write back I won’t be coming back to this inanity.

      2. Sgt. Schultz

        Has it occurred to you that this is some day-tripping cartoon character trolling here? Not even the loony left is quite this absurd. Or Barleycorn trying to sneak his way back in.

        1. PK

          It has, but even then his execution was poor. Whatever you want say about my methods, I did get him to say he’d leave and wouldn’t be back. That’s a “W” in my book.

    2. Hunting Guy

      You are so full of bovine fecal material your eyes must be brown.

      Our host doesn’t like “Well, the other side did it!” but in this case it applies.

      Pull your head out of your ass and see what has been done to conservatives. They have already been beat up by progressives using the same tactics.

      Don’t complain if you throw shit and some comes back at you.

  6. Elpey P.

    If they had been around 70 years ago they would probably have been asking, “If you had to choose, which do you think is more important, a free and open society or tolerating subversive opinions?” They can mind read all of the bad motives they attribute to the people they disagree with but expect their own incoherence to be taken at face value.

    1. Sgt. Schultz

      In a world of simpletons, anything is “reasonable.” That’s not really a viable limiting principle.

    2. Pedantic Grammar Police

      You’re right. Hate crime is the first step down the slope toward thoughtcrime. Hate speech is the second. It gets slipperier as you go down.

    3. Rengit

      The under-25s have such a broad conception of “hate speech” to include things like stating, “As a Christian/Jew/Muslim/etc, I believe marriage is between a man and a woman” or “There are two genders” or “I only date biological women, no penises” or deadnaming a transwoman, that whenever they are going to try to come up with a legally workable definition, they’re going to end up potentially criminalizing a broad swath of social interaction. And then will likely give up on the whole enterprise of banning hate speech entirely.

  7. MelK

    If you had to choose, would you prefer a false dichotomy, or not to participate in the survey? And remember, this is for posterity…

  8. Bryan Burroughs

    Imma go out on a limb and say that the difference in the responses between women and men is directly related to the difference in experience between women and men. Men don’t have to worry as much about “inclusion” because they are already included. I’d post that you find similar differences regarding hate speech, as women tend to experience more online bullying and harassment than men.

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