Activism more popular on campus than it's been for decades

Today's freshmen are spurred to widespread protests

College freshmen are more involved in political activism than they have been for the past 50 years, according to a national survey conducted by University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Teresa Watanabe reports for the Los Angeles Times.

Researchers at UCLA's cooperative institutional research program surveyed more than 141,000 first-time, full-time students who entered 199 four-year colleges and universities in 2015. The institute has conducted its annual "The American Freshman" survey for the past 50 years.

Politically motivated

Nearly 60% of freshmen reported they expected to vote at some point during their time at college, with the majority supporting progressive causes. However, interest in political activism differed greatly by race and ethnicity. Black and Latino students reported being much more likely than their Asian and white peers to take part in campus demonstrations and were also more likely to support the promotion of racial understanding.

"Collectively, the findings suggest that more students are committed to social justice," according to Kevin Eagan, director of the program. He notes, "That may be why they are the most committed to political and civic engagement of any of the previous 49 classes."

Freshmen today are also more likely to support restrictions on free speech, such as "trigger warnings" for potentially offensive speech and content.

Support for banning racist and sexist speech on college campuses reached 70.9% in 2015, up from 58.9% in 1992. Forty-three percent of freshmen also supported colleges banning extreme speakers, up from 25% in 1971.

According to Eagan, students' increased political activism could be attributed to a recent wave of protests against police brutality and campus treatment of minorities.

Does political activism go off-campus?

Despite the more progressive attitudes among today's freshmen, it is unclear whether their on-campus activism will translate into increased political participation on a national level.

"If they organize, protest and show up at the polls, they may have a role in shaping the public discourse on issues related to social inequality, equity, and discrimination," Eagan says. "By contrast, if these students do not follow through on their intentions and goals, the enthusiastic support we're seeing for addressing social justice concerns will likely diminish, eliminating the potential for a broader impact in politics or American life" (Watanabe, "L.A. Now,"Los Angeles Times, 2/10).

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