by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Though colleges and universities have been open for only a few weeks, reports are already circulating of speakers and professors being cancelled or even attacked because of their ideas or speech. Yet while many are quick to condemn students and America’s younger generation generally as leftists afraid to hear ideas and eager to shut down non-progressive thinkers, this reputation is unfair and inaccurate.
Just-released data make it apparent that younger Americans remain overwhelmingly centrist and open-minded. In 2019, UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute found that 67 percent of first-year college students were open to having their views challenged. Moreover, while large numbers of students regularly state that they do not feel that they can express unpopular opinions, more than two-thirds agree with the statement, “dissent is a critical component of the political process.”
As new data from Reality Check Insights reveal, an overwhelming majority of young people are willing to shut down speech regarded as harmful and untrue—such as Holocaust denial, which 70 percent of Millennials and Gen Zers would ban from campuses. Yet large majorities of younger Americans oppose cancelling or limiting expressions of controversial or even offensive views: 69 percent would welcome a speaker on campus who opposed the Black Lives Matter movement, for example, while 81 percent would welcome a guest speaking in support of BLM.
In this area, at least, the young are more pro-free speech than older generations. Just 54 percent of Boomers, for instance, would welcome a supporter of BLM, though 70 percent would endorse bringing in a speaker in opposition to BLM. …
… Collectively, these new data show that young people are not as closeminded as portrayed—so long as they regard the ideas they’re hearing as legitimate. The virtues and vices of BLM are open to debate; Holocaust denial is not. Millennials and Gen Zers welcome discourse on topics worthy of debate but are not interested in giving platforms to hate speech.