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Macy Freeman

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    Above: Students discuss First Amendment rights at the Newseum on Saturday. Photo (cc) by Mark Schierbecker on Flickr.  Recent protests on U.S. college campuses have prompted significant questions about student attitudes toward First Amendment rights, such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of assembly. On Saturday, April 2, Knight Foundation and the Newseum Institute gathered college students from around the country for “Free Speech on Campus, a daylong conference of panel discussions and conversations at the Newseum tied to a new Gallup survey about the exercise of the First Amendment on college campuses. Download a PDF of the Gallup report. Download infographic PDF. That survey—released Monday and sponsored by Knight and the Newseum Institute—polled 3,000 students at 32 U.S. colleges and universities. It found that 81 percent of students surveyed were confident in the security of the freedom of the press, 76 percent in the freedom to petition the government and 73 percent in the freedom of speech. But it also highlighted racial differences in students’ attitudes, their significant distrust in the press, and a belief among many students that sometimes restrictions on rights are justified. During Saturday’s program, Sam Gill, vice president of learning and impact at Knight Foundation, presented these findings and others, including results that revealed the role race sometimes plays in students’ interpretations of the First Amendment. For instance, black college students were less likely than white students to believe in the security of the right to assemble peacefully, 39 to 70 percent. “The reality of our constitutional rights, the reasons we have them, is so that we can continue to … think anew about what they mean as the world changes,” Gill said. Knight and the Newseum Institute plan to explore the issue of freedom of expression on campus throughout 2016. The Newseum plans to hold a “Free Expression Fair” in D.C. later this year, and the partners hope to develop a “Guide to Free Speech on Campus.”  Saturday afternoon students participated in a roundtable discussion with Jeff Herbst, president and CEO of the Newseum and Newseum Institute. Herbst and the students shared questions on a number of issues, including how to foster a “marketplace of ideas” on campus and acknowledging racial slurs as a form of violence. For one of the central conversations Saturday, Greg Lukianoff, president and CEO of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) joined moderator Gene Policinski, COO of the Newseum Institute, to discuss such topics as social media as an engagement tool, “microaggressions” and the use of “trigger warnings” to alert students to ideas and material that may upset them and prevent trauma and backlash. In “The Coddling of the American Mind”— a widely discussed article co-written by Lukianoff and New York University Prof. Jonathan Haidt for The Atlantic last year—the authors explored the idea of oversensitivity in college students and the evolving climate of the classroom. “From talking to professors across the country, the list of things that people have requested or demanded trigger warnings for is huge,” Lukianoff said Saturday. “They are starting to just avoid controversial topics, because they’re afraid that there’s no way to say the right thing at this point.”