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The Politics of Speech on Campus1

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Sociological Forum

Published online on

Abstract

["Sociological Forum, EarlyView. ", "\nThis article is concerned with college‐aged activists’ discussions about provocative speakers invited to their campuses. Our research shows how the students on the front lines of debates over free expression and inclusion conceptualize the stakes and think about the consequences of their political involvement. Our analysis goes beyond simplistic portrayals of young people as being either “for” or “against” speech rights. Instead, we argue that conservative activists adopt an absolutist stance toward the First Amendment, which is encouraged by outside national organizations that regard free expression as a wedge issue in higher education. This contrasts with progressive activists, who struggle to weigh the value of individual freedoms against the potential harms caused by derogatory or hostile words and symbols. Ultimately, our semi‐structured interview data allow us to see the complex (and sometimes contradictory) reasoning behind students’ responses to contentious speaking events at colleges and universities\n"]