But when faced with controversial topics, how do these students respond? Even as students congratulated themselves for their tolerance, the UCLA survey found record-breaking levels of intolerance. Forty-three percent of freshmen agreed with the statement “colleges have the right to ban extreme speakers from campus”—numbers higher than in any year except 2004. An all-time high of 71 percent—the same percentage that reported above-average abilities in discussing controversial issues—reported believing “colleges should prohibit racist/sexist speech on campus.”
UCLA’s survey results—while astonishing—are not anomalous. In April, a Gallup study found nearly half of students receptive to restricting speech for reasons like those Melissa Click offered. Forty-eight percent said that colleges should curtail media access to campus events when protesters want to be left alone. To a significant number of students, banning reporters from campus and disinviting speakers do not curtail free speech, but merely exercise it.
At Harvard this spring, a Black Lives Matter group occupied the student lounge and tore down “offensive” posters. When the dean of students announced that free speech protects the right of all students to post flyers, the activists divided a bulletin board into halves labeled “silenced” and “privileged,” and moved “offensive” posters to the “privileged” side. To these campus activists, free speech as traditionally understood is oppressive.
Winning the battle for free speech now requires defining it, not just defending it. ...Far easier said than done. Because you can "define" it all you want, but that is as unlikely to open firmly-closed minds (who believe that free speech is "oppressive") as simply "defending" it is.