Survey: College Students Support Trigger Warnings, But Some Fear Speaking Up

Some college students bite their tongues in class to avoid offending classmates or avoid publicly supporting less popular opinions on campus, a new survey found.

More than 300 students voiced their opinions on free speech on campus in a survey released Friday by a journalism class at American University. The class spent a semester investigating issues around free speech, political correctness and trigger warnings.

Campuses nationwide have wrestled with issues around free speech ranging from threatening social media posts, which Halloween costumes are considered offensive and how administrators react -- or don't -- to the needs of marginalized students. The American project went further, delving into the establishment of safe spaces on campus and the impact of hateful speech in video games

The entire project, Voice-less, can be found online, including a video about the subject.

Students are divided about the state of the campus climate, the survey found.

About four in ten students said they sometimes kept quiet instead of voicing an opinion in class. And the majority of college students surveyed -- six in 10 -- said students are "somewhat" or "very" coddled.

Most students did not feel strongly whether professors should or should not use trigger warnings, the survey found.

Trigger warnings are statements before a lecture, reading or other activity that inform people of potentially sensitive material, such as depictions of violence. Almost 90 percent of students are familiar with the term, the survey found.

Most students support trigger warnings: 61 percent of students surveyed said universities should provide them, and 55 percent said students who "don’t maintain a safe space" should be disciplined, the survey found.

Proponents say that trigger warnings help students with previous trauma, but critics, including one veteran profiled in the project, said the warnings shield students from reality.

The survey was one part of the coverage by American’s Writing and Editing for Convergent Media class, taught by Amy Eisman. This year is the second that NBC Washington partnered with the class. The class last year covered mental health.

Sophia Barnes was a member of last year's Convergent Media class.

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