POLL: Most Virginians support safe spaces over free speech

A recent survey conducted by Virginia Commonwealth University shows that half of the state’s residents believe protection from discrimination should take precedence over free speech.

The poll, conducted by the university’s Office of Public Policy Outreach, found that 50 percent of Virginians emphasize protecting college students from discrimination at the expense of free speech.

Meanwhile, just 40 percent of residents believe that an emphasis should instead be placed on “unlimited freedom of expression” at the risk of discrimination, with a remaining 10 percent of the population being undecided.

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Notably, the poll was conducted from July 17-25, nearly a month before the riots in Charlottesville and on the campus of the University of Virginia that sparked a national debate on the limits of free expression.

“University administrators frequently face difficult tradeoffs, especially as we consider the context of controversial demonstrations on or near college campuses,” remarked Robyn McDougle, director of the Office of Public Policy Outreach, in a press release announcing the results of the survey.

“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,” he elaborated, concluding that the results of the study show that “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.”

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Among Republican respondents, only 40 percent said anti-discrimination efforts should take priority over free speech, compared to 57 percent of Democrats.

Similarly, 61 percent of minority respondents and 56 percent of women emphasized protection from discrimination over free speech, whereas that opinion was only expressed by 46 percent of white respondents and 44 percent of men.

“Robust debate is the hallmark of an effective education, but we must be mindful of any situation that threatens physical safety on our campuses,” commented Virginia Secretary of Education Dietra Trent. “Virginia’s schools can, must, and do provide a safe space for both vulnerable students and dissenting ideas.”

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