Boise State ranks 68 nationally in openness of speech on campus, but 165 in students’ overall comfort in sharing their ideas

Photo by Niamh Brennan

The 2024 university rankings for college free speech were released earlier this year, placing Boise State University at 68 out of 248 schools. The rankings are published by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, formerly the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). 

For perspective, the top five schools are Michigan Technological University, Auburn University, University of New Hampshire, Oregon State University and Florida State University. All of these with the exception of Florida State were given a speech climate rating of “good” whereas Florida State received “above average”.

The lowest five schools are Fordham University, Georgetown University, University of South Carolina, University of Pennsylvania and Harvard University.

It is worth noting that four out of the five lowest-rated schools are private schools with University of South Carolina being the only public school in the lowest five and the top five schools all being public schools. 

FIRE compiles many data points that go into their rankings, including comfort expressing ideas, tolerance for liberal speakers, tolerance for conservative speakers and administrative support.

In addition to being ranked 68 overall, Boise State ranks 144 in tolerance for speakers combined — meaning both liberal and conservative, 219 in tolerance for liberal speakers and 70 for conservative speakers.

Despite being in the top 100, students still expressed hesitation about sharing their true opinions on campus or in class. 

Boise State ranked 165 in comfort expressing ideas. According to FIRE’s website, this “measures how comfortable students are expressing their thoughts via writing, in class, and among their peers and professors at their college.” 

This is a substantial difference between the overall ranking and a more focused ranking.

There are many reasons that could lead to a student not feeling comfortable sharing their opinions on a college campus, including feeling pressured to not share or just wanting to fit in.

“If you have a more mixed campus where you don’t know your peers’ political beliefs, you know we’re in a highly polarized time, you know that the consequences of disagreement politically are some form of censure,” said Professor Christian Lindke, an adjunct professor of political science at Boise State University.

Lindke mentions that due to the diverse nature of certain campuses, people might feel more afraid to express their opinions as opposed to a more monolithic campus, where students might know what they are getting themselves into and feel more comfortable sharing. 

Conversely, students might just learn what to say to fit in as opposed to sharing their true opinions.

“In a place that’s monolithic, you know what to say because there’s a group of norms,” Lindke said. 

Students coming from areas around the country that have a more monolithic viewpoint experience a shock when instances come up where they need to share their opinions. Students might initially feel they can share their opinions, but moving to a place that has different views than theirs or even a more diverse set of views could lead to the student feeling uncomfortable.

“I’ve gotten in a few arguments with some of my classmates about certain political topics,” said Ella Edwards, a junior at Boise State studying integrated media and strategic communications.

Edwards expressed the feeling of potentially losing friends or the trust of their peers for speaker her mind on certain issues.

“I felt scared to speak my mind about those issues because oftentimes those conversations impacted the way I was treated by my peers in class,” Edwards said.

Other students might feel a shift when starting college. Students might come from a high school where they shared the views of most, if not all, of their peers to a university that has a more diverse set of views and opinions.

“I went to a high school that was super open and accepting where most people aligned with the same views that I had so I had no issue and was used to sharing my opinion about those things. In college, it’s not as easy I’ve noticed,” said Bridget Gibson, a freshman political science and urban studies major.

While they might not feel pressured, there might be a thought in their minds about what consequences might come from expressing certain thoughts.

“There is a lot more backlash for viewpoints,” said Gibson.

Lindke believes that college is a time for people to make friends and connections and the fear of expressing opinions can hinder these connections.

“You’re at a point in life where you’re trying to make friends and to build relationships that will be lifelong friendships … if you’re in a place that’s politically mixed and you have strong political beliefs, you may not feel as free to say them as you would in a place where you know what to expect,” Lindke said.

Lindke went on to say that this was a “bad thing” from the standpoint of deliberation and having open conversations.

The phenomenon of students being in a college setting and afraid of saying the wrong thing has been around for some time now although Professor Lindke believes it is a growing trend.

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