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Poll: Virginia residents prioritize safe spaces over free speech on campus

Virginia residents would rather give up free speech than safe spaces.(Sara D. Davis / stringer)

According a recent poll administered in Virginia, half of Virginia residents are more concerned about proper safe spaces than the issue of free speech.

Virginia Commonwealth University's Office of Public Policy Outreach, which conducted the poll over the summer, found that 50 percent of Virginians supported "protecting everyone on campus from discrimination, even if it means there are negative consequences for voicing one’s opinions."

Conversely, 40 percent of those polled said they felt that unlimited freedom of speech was more important than protecting students from discrimination. Ten percent of those polled were undecided.

"University administrators frequently face difficult tradeoffs, especially as we consider the context of controversial demonstrations on or near college campuses,” said the Public Policy Outreach director, Dr. Robyn McDougle.

"On one hand, universities have long traditions of robust debate and free speech, but increasingly administrators are called on to ensure zones of safety from ongoing discrimination for students and other members of campus communities,” said McDougle. “These results show Virginians are divided over which to emphasize, with a very narrow majority believing that protection from discrimination should receive a higher emphasis than unlimited expression.”

Among registered Democrats polled, 57 percent believed safe spaces and preventing discrimination should be more important than unlimited free speech, while only 40 percent of Republicans agreed.

Virginia Secretary of Education Dietra Trent said that while free speech was important, protecting students from harm should also be a top priority.

"Robust debate is the hallmark of an effective education, but we must be mindful of any situation that threatens physical safety on our campuses," Trent said. "Virginia’s schools can, must, and do provide a safe space for both vulnerable students and dissenting ideas.”

The poll was conducted between July 17-25 by landline and cellphone and surveyed 806 adults with a margin of error of 4.2 percentage points.

(h/t: Campus Reform)




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