Throughout its storied history, higher education in the United States has dealt with the challenges of free speech. From Harvard's 1766 'bad butter riot' to hateful speech directed towards students by non-university community members, balancing the need for free speech with maintaining a welcoming and inclusive campus environment stands as an immense test for higher education (Papandrea, 2017). Idealism and ethicality aside, lost in the academic debate over liberty and protections are the views of those who should best help shine a light on such a divisive issue: students. This dissertation creates a quantitative path to understanding those very viewpoints. Using the theoretical framework of Social Judgment Theory (Sherif & Hovland, 1961), the study discerns student attitudes towards free speech by measuring student ego involvement and latitudes of acceptance, non-commitment, and rejection. This study examines one main question: are student attitudes towards the general concept of free speech congruent with their attitudes towards the perceived acceptability of specific types of speech? Results from more than 2,300 participants revealed that while college students generally regard free speech as an extremely important right in higher education, there are still instances of protected free speech that are considered unacceptable. On the topic of partisan politics, respondents identifying as Republican and Democrat were not statistically different in any measure of ego involvement or range of latitudes. Females reported higher ego involvement scores and a much higher propensity to finding certain examples of speech unacceptable, indicating a reduced belief in the importance of free speech.
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Cintron Delgado, Rosa
Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)
College of Education and Human Performance
Child, Family, and Community Sciences
Educational Leadership; Higher Education
Length of Campus-only Access
Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)
Oglethorpe, David, "College Student Attitudes Towards Free Speech and Expression" (2018). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 5772.