Majority of HBCU students favor evicting media from protests

A new Gallup poll finds that a majority of students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) favor limiting the ability of the media to cover campus protests.

HBCU students were only slightly more likely than the average college student to support restrictions on "offensive" speech on campus, but non-HBCU black students expressed much greater approval of censorship than either group.

A new Gallup poll finds that a majority of students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) favor limiting the ability of the media to cover campus protests.

Gallup, in conjunction with the Knight Foundation and the Newseum Institute, released a survey of HBCU students Thursday as a follow-up to an April survey of all U.S. college students and their views on free expression on campus.

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The survey was conducted through telephone interviews with 302 HBCU students, and covers issues such as First Amendment rights, offensive speech, and racial issues on campus.

According to the results of the survey, HBCU students were more likely than their peers to distrust the media, with only 39 percent of HBCU students reporting a “great deal” or “fair amount” of trust in the media, compared to 42 percent of all college students.

As an extension of this distrust, HBCU students were twice as likely (56 percent to 28 percent) to say they favored limiting the ability of the press to cover campus protests, citing justifications such as a desire to be left alone, a desire to control one’s own story through social media, and concerns about unfair reporting.

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Despite their eagerness to limit the rights of the media, however, HBCU students also felt that freedom of the press was the most secure right in the First Amendment.

Indeed, fully 75 percent said that freedom of the press was “secure” or “very secure,” compared to 62 percent who related the same confidence for freedom of religion, 60 percent for freedom of speech, and 56 percent for freedom to petition the government.

Notably, though, the respondents expressed far less confidence in the right to assembly, with a mere 45 percent saying that right was “secure” or “very secure.”

The survey also went into depth on the question of free expression, asking students what they consider the proper role of the university to be with regard to policing speech on campus.

Among HBCU students, 70 percent said “colleges should strive to create an open learning environment that allows students to express various viewpoints, including offensive ones,” a figure that tracks closely with the 73 percent of all college students who share that outlook.

At the same time, however, HBCU students were also slightly more likely to support restrictions on “offensive” speech than the average student, with 34 percent of respondents to the latest survey favoring restrictions on offensive sentiments, as against 27 percent in the April poll.

Conversely, 71 percent of HBCU students opined that colleges should restrict culturally insensitive Halloween costumes, while only 63 percent of all students said the same.

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Despite the relatively consistent opinions of HBCU students and American college students overall, black students at non-HBCU schools were significantly more likely than either group to support policies restricting potentially offensive forms of expression.

Within that subset, 41 percent favored prohibitions against offensive political speech, 79 percent thought colleges should ban “intentionally offensive” language, and 77 percent favored regulations against wearing costumes “that stereotype certain racial or ethnic groups.”

“Like the nationwide college student sample, HBCU students also favor an open learning environment that invites students to express a range of viewpoints, even some potentially offensive ones,” Gallup states in the conclusion, though the report also notes that “HBCU students appear more willing than the national sample to deny First Amendment freedoms to the press.”

The pollsters stop short of drawing any firm conclusions, saying only that the two surveys of college students “paint a complicated and important picture of free speech on campuses today,” and that “while their environments and backgrounds seem to have some influence on their views and responses to key events, it is clear students are thinking about these rights and the nature of expression in new and changing ways.”

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