Study: Colleges with safe spaces among least popular on Twitter

A college ranking website has released a new study on university Twitter trends, analyzing which schools have the most positive, neutral, and negative feeds.

The “Tweeting @ Universities” study, conducted by, examined over 100,000 tweets in March and April that contained the names of nearly 5,000 American institutions of higher learning. Researchers used a computer filter to detect a host of positive and negative key phrases in each tweet, then judged the online perception of each university based on the tweets about it.

College Stats is not speculating on potential explanations for the findings, nor on their possible significance, but Campus Reform has noticed a certain degree of correlation between many colleges’ rankings and their prominence in the news.

Washington University in St. Louis, for instance, was named the school with the most negative words per tweet in the country during March and April. Around the same time period, the campus weathered protests against fossil fuels, and also experienced a shooting near campus that triggered a lockdown, leading students to fear for their lives.

The university with the second-greatest negativity is Bowdoin College. As Campus Reform reported in March, some students began demanding ‘safe spaces’ in response to a tequila-themed party they considered racist, and the Student Government even worked to impeach two student senators who attended the party.

Another school with a high rate of negative words per tweet is Portland State University, where protesters recently disrupted a Board of Trustees meeting and shut down a Students for Trump meeting. Since fall, the campus has also played host to periodic demonstrations calling for its campus police to be stripped of their weapons, a protest campaign known as “Disarm PSU.”

[RELATED: PSU students stage ‘die-in’ to demand disarming of campus police]

Emory University, on the other hand, earned the distinction of being a “true neutral” in terms of Twitter sentiment, with its positive and negative mentions cancelling each other out. College Stats infers that the neutral perception of Emory may have to do with the controversy that engulfed its campus in March, when students complained of being “triggered” by pro-Donald Trump chalk messages that were found written on university sidewalks.

Emory’s Student Government Association released a statement sympathizing with the “genuine concern and pain” that some students apparently felt after viewing the chalkings, but university President James Wagner inspired a contrasting narrative when he added his own chalk message declaring that “Emory stands for free expression!”

Other schools enjoyed an unquestionably positive reception on Twitter, though, particularly those whose basketball teams performed well in the NCAA Tournament that took place at the same time College Stats was conducting its survey.

The school with the most positive average Twitter sentiment in the country was Villanova University, which won the NCAA men’s basketball championship in April, after which faculty, students, and fans flooded Twitter with positive messages about the team.

Syracuse University, which tied for second in the most-positive category, also had a great year in basketball, with its men’s team reaching the Final Four and its women’s team earning second place in the NCAA Tournaments.

Drury University, which enjoyed the greatest number of positive words per tweet, did not experience any great sporting success this spring, but like most of the other schools in that category, Drury is a small, private institution that promotes a familial atmosphere. Tweets from happy students and alumni recommending small schools helped boost them to the top of the list.

Among the 50 most common positive keywords were terms like recommend, happy, good, favorite, fans, and love. The top 50 negative keywords included miss, bad, hate, and a variety of curse words.

College Stats notes that its analysis didn’t account for the full context of each tweet, so concedes that it is possible that some terms were misinterpreted by the filter, but a representative for the organization told Campus Reform that studying a college’s Twitter climate is nonetheless important for both prospective students and school administrators.

“Although it shouldn’t make or break your top choice for selecting a college, it doesn’t hurt prospective students to log into Twitter to see the general vibe of a school when searching for a college,” College Stats said. "As universities become more active on social media, they are paying more and more attention to how they are perceived online.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @RiersonNC