Political Science Education and the Profession

Using Think-Alouds to Understand How Students Balance Free Speech and Inclusion

Jeffrey Bernstein Eastern Michigan University
Cameron Armstrong Eastern Michigan University
Higher education is increasingly under fire as a bastion of liberal intolerance, where freedom of expression is routinely curtailed to protect and coddle vulnerable individuals and foster inclusion. While much of this picture is exaggerated, recent evidence suggests there is some truth at the core of this claim. We explore student attitudes toward freedom of speech on campus using a think-aloud method, in which students are exposed to source material on a subject and “think aloud” as they work through it. We gain an in-depth picture of how students understand and make judgments about who should and should not be allowed to speak on campus. Students tend to be more restrictive than a civil libertarian might like, albeit in (usually) internally consistent and sympathetic ways. We conclude by suggesting interventions that could help students better understand the way First Amendment rights are typically adjudicated and balanced against other lofty goals.