Campus Free Speech

88% of Pomona Students Think the Campus Climate Silences Them

"'Very liberal' students are nearly four times more likely than moderate and conservative students to favor prohibiting some types of speech."


Pomona College

The overwhelming majority of students at Pomona College think the campus climate prevents them from expressing ideas that other people might find offensive.

Conservative, moderate, and liberal students are to varying degrees concerned about this trend. But 41 percent of self-described "very liberal" students thought Pomona's policies on offensive speech had not gone far enough toward making potentially insensitive remarks unutterable.

That's according to a fascinating survey of Pomona students and faculty conducted by Gallup. About a third of students and two thirds of faculty participated, which makes it a relatively comprehensive snapshot of the school's attitudes about speech.

It turns out that Pomona students are more inclined than both faculty and students nationally to say that the college should prohibit certain viewpoints. Pomona's students are evenly split on the question, whereas 63 percent of faculty and 77 percent of students nationwide think permitting all types of speech, even offensive ones, was more important. 28 percent of Pomona students think policies aimed at curbing offensive speech had not gone far enough; just 13 percent of the faculty feel that way.

Perhaps most worryingly, many students express some discomfort with the idea of having conversations with people whose views differ from their own. Only half of surveyed students are "comfortable" or "very comfortable" having such discussions in their classes. The highest comfort level is enjoyed by students on sports teams, where 64 percent say they're comfortable or very comfortable having tough talks.

Very liberal students constitute 24 percent of the sample size—more than the moderate and conservative students combined (16 percent and 3 percent, respectively). Liberal students make up the other 53 percent.

The ideological breakdown matters, because the school's very liberal students are far more likely to approve of policies designed to crack down on offensive speech.

"Pomona students' attitudes about how colleges should govern speech on campus vary dramatically by their political ideology," write the survey's authors. "Three-quarters of students who identify as 'very liberal' believe it is important for colleges to prohibit certain types of speech, compared with about half (49%) of self-identified 'liberal' students. In fact, 'very liberal' students are nearly four times more likely than moderate and conservative students to favor prohibiting some types of speech."

Readers may recall that student-activists at Pomona previously described free speech as "a tool appropriated by hegemonic institutions" for the purpose of oppressing the marginalized. These students flatly rejected the idea that the point of education is to pursue objective truth, and they demanded that the administration take action against a conservative campus paper, The Claremont Independent, for daring to criticize their movement.

Is there a free speech crisis at Pomona College? It depends how you define crisis. But it seems like a sizeable number of students are afraid to express their opinions on campus, and a small but powerful contingent of activists wouldn't have it any other way.