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FIRE Fellow presenting at Society for Personality and Social Psychology annual conference

Tomorrow, as part of FIRE’s Speech, Outreach, Advocacy, and Research (SOAR) project, I will be presenting a poster at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology’s annual conference in Atlanta, Georgia. Kelsey Naughton, FIRE’s data analyst and report writer, is coauthor on the poster. Our poster, which delves into a recent FIRE study on student appreciation for free speech on campus, is titled “Taking a Bite Out of the Free Speech Apple: College Students’ Attitudes Toward Disinvitation of Campus Speakers.”  

Using data from FIRE’s recent ‘Speaking Freely’ survey of 1250 college students, we investigated whether students’ college experience goals and political ideology correlated with their views regarding rescinding invitations to campus speakers. Students who self-identified as liberal were significantly more likely to think it is okay for their college or university to rescind a speaking invitation after the event has been announced. These “disinvitations” happen to speakers from across the political spectrum, although right-wing speakers are more frequently disinvited than left-wing speakers, which may in part explain why liberal students, whose preferred speakers are less apt to be disinvited, would be more comfortable endorsing the practice.  

Although 93 percent of the students completing our poll agreed or strongly agreed that “My college or university should invite speakers with a variety of ideas and opinions to campus, including speakers whose perspectives are very different from my own,” 56 percent of the students agreed or strongly agreed that “There are times when my college or university should tell a guest speaker s/he is no longer invited to speak at the school, even after the event has been announced.” Although some identified safety concerns as a reason to disinvite, others endorsed ideological reasons to disinvite speakers. Sometimes disinvitations occur because administrators do not want a particular speaker on campus, but increasingly, disinvitations occur because of administrators conceding to student-led efforts to cancel speakers. In recent years, both disinvitation attempts and actual disinvitations have become more common.  

We also examined how students’ most valued and least valued goals for their college experience correlated with their attitudes toward disinvitation. As part of the FIRE’s ‘Speaking Freely’ survey, students chose their three most important and their three least important goals from a list of fifteen common goals for their college experience. Identifying “Belonging to a campus community where may values are shared” as one of their three most important college experience goals correlated positively with approval for disinvitation occurring at one’s school. Identifying “Learning how to gather and thoughtfully use evidence to support my ideas” as one of their three least important college experience goals also correlated positively with approval for disinvitation occurring at one’s school.

However, identifying “Better understanding how to value diversity” as one of their least important college experience goals correlated negatively with approval of disinvitation occurring at one’s school. In other words, not valuing understanding diversity correlated positively with disapproving of disinvitations. Understanding how student values and goals intersect with attitudes toward disinvitation may be useful for building productive dialogue regarding disinvitation with students, faculty, and administrators. The data for the poll was collected online by YouGov.

It is a privilege to present a poster at the SPSP annual conference this year, if you are at the conference tomorrow please feel free to stop by and say hello!

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