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Gen Z split on whether hate speech should be protected by First Amendment


College campuses are now populated by the age cohort known as “Generation Z.” Born between 1997 and 2012 and on track to be the most diverse and best-educated generation to date, the newly minted voters in the upper range of this age group are developing their own views on free speech.

A study conducted by College Pulse and supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation surveyed more than 4,400 “Gen Z” students enrolled in full-time, four-year degree programs in December 2018 and found that the group largely supported First Amendment rights to free speech, as 58 percent of those surveyed did not support restrictions.


Those surveyed were largely divided on whether free speech was more important than fostering an inclusive society, especially along gender and racial lines.

Seventy-four percent of male students interviewed said hate speech, defined as “attacks [on] people based on their race, gender identity, or sexual orientation,” should be protected by the First Amendment. In comparison, 53 percent of female students said hate speech should not be protected.

Seventy-four percent of male college students also said that too many people are easily offended in this day and age, as opposed to 51 percent of women interviewed.

When the responses were broken down by race, the study found that 62 percent of white students and 56 percent of Asian-Pacific Islander students agreed hate speech should be protected by the First Amendment. Only 48 percent of black students and 52 percent of Hispanic students interview also believed hate speech should be protected.

“Gender was actually a stronger determinant than race with regards to hate speech protection,” Knight Director for Learning and Impact Evette Alexander said in a blog post about the study.

The study also found a division along sexual orientation. Sixty-four percent of heterosexual identifying students said hate speech should be protected, while 61 percent of gay and lesbian identifying students said it should not.


Students surveyed did agree on one thing: the political and social climate on college campuses prevented some students from voicing their thoughts and opinions. Sixty-eight percent of students agreed and the sentiment was true across gender and ethnicities.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the number of students surveyed by College Pulse.

Abbi Matheson can be reached at abbi.matheson@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @AbbiMatheson