Just over half of the residents of Virginia think protecting students from hearing discriminatory viewpoints is more important than fostering and protecting free speech on campus, according to a recently released poll.
Virginia Commonwealth University’s Office of Public Policy Outreach conducted the poll in mid-July — about a month before the events in Charlottesville and at the University of Virginia. The school released the findings late last week.
“A very narrow majority” of the 806 adult Virginia residents polled said they think colleges and universities should emphasize “protecting everyone on campus from discrimination, even if it means there are negative consequences for voicing one’s opinions.”
Just 40 percent of the poll participants said colleges and universities should emphasize “allowing everyone on campus to have unlimited freedom of expression, even if it means some groups of people may face discrimination.”
Five percent of the survey respondents said they want colleges and universities to protect people from discriminatory language while somehow simultaneously allowing unlimited free speech.
Another five percent had no opinion or refused to answer the question.
About 40 percent of self-described Republicans said protecting people from hearing about discrimination is more important than free speech.
Close to 60 percent of self-described Democrats said they favored limited speech about discrimination.
The director of Virginia Commonwealth’s Office of Public Policy Outreach, Robyn McDougle, summed up the findings.
“On one hand, universities have long traditions of robust debate and free speech, but increasingly administrators are called on to ensure zones of safety from ongoing discrimination for students and other members of campus communities,” McDougle said in a press release about the poll.
“These results show Virginians are divided over which to emphasize, with a very narrow majority believing that protection from discrimination should receive a higher emphasis than unlimited expression,” McDougle also said.
Virginia Secretary of Education Dietra Trent, a Democrat, flatly said that taxpayer-funded colleges and universities must “provide a safe space” for adult students.
“Robust debate is the hallmark of an effective educational system, but we must be mindful of any situation that threatens physical safety on our campuses,” Trent said in the press release. “Virginia’s schools can, must, and do provide a safe space for both vulnerable students and dissenting ideas.” (RELATED: Fancypants College In Cleveland Offers SAFE SPACE For Students Traumatized By GOP Convention)
Virginia Commonwealth, the public university behind the poll, is notable because a student there once allegedly decided it would be a good idea to get really drunk and steal an ambulance to celebrate his 21st birthday. (RELATED: So This College Kid Stole An Ambulance. What He Did Next Will Surprise You)