Let freedom be cherished that learning may flourish.

2022 FIRE Davidson Student Survey

For the first time in its nation-wide annual surveys of university and college students on freedom of expression issues, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) included Davidson College students in the 2022 cycle. The report that follows summarizes the views of Davidson students in 2022. The complete national FIRE report is at https://www.thefire.org/research/publications/student-surveys/2022-college-free-speech-rankings/.

FIRE Summary Report
2022 College Free Speech Rankings Davidson College

Davidson College ranked 116 of 203 in the 2022 College Free Speech Rankings. Additionally, Davidson’s speech code received a yellow light rating, meaning they have at least one speech code that restricts protected speech or by virtue of vague wording can be too easily used to restrict protected expression.

Davidson’s ranking information and survey data can be found here:

FIRE Rankings of Davidson Relative to 203 Other Institutions in 2022 Survey

Overall Davidson Free Speech Rank: 116 out of 203
Comfort Expressing Ideas: 178
Disruptive Conduct: 29
Openness: 139
Administrative Support: 180
Overall Tolerance for Speakers: 14
Tolerance for Liberal Speakers: 39
Tolerance for Conservative Speakers: 43
Speech Climate: Slightly Below Average
Speech Code: Yellow
2022 Davidson Survey Findings Based on Survey of 181 Davidson Students

Davidson Student Responses to "Please share a moment where you personally felt you could not express your opinion on your campus"

"When swarmed by a group all representing one ideological belief, I felt uncomfortable to share my opinion."--Class of 2025

"In class as the students here, not the professors, believe politics is life or death and they are never wrong. It is not about winning someone to your side but about a conversation, however that is not how it works here where students will blacklist you for even a moderate political view."--Class of 2024

"I'm not particularly one to get up and share my thoughts in a public setting, so I can't say I've wanted to say something and not said it out of fear. However, I certainly hold many beliefs that would be ridiculed if I expressed them on campus."--Class of 2024

"One of my professors is very politically and culturally sensitive, so we could never respond to his cultural comments objectively."--Class of 2024

"It seems like the student body and administration have a clearly unified opinion on the war in Ukraine, that happens to coincide with the opinions that are in the interests of U.S. empire. I think some large degree of how the narrative about what's happening is sold to us is largely propaganda, just like all the other conflicts that the U.S. government and media get involved in. I do not feel comfortable expressing my opinion on campus, except in private 1-on-1 conversations - anything outside the imperialist narrative wouldn't be publicly tolerated."– Class of 2024



The 2022 Rankings

The College Free Speech Rankings are based on a composite score of ten sub-components. Six of these assessed student perceptions of different aspects of the speech climate on their campus. The other four assessed administrative behavior in regards to free expression on campus.

Student Perceptions

The student perception sub-components included:

  • Comfort Expressing Ideas: Students were asked how comfortable they felt expressing their views on controversial topics in five different campus settings (e.g., in class or in the dining hall). Options ranged from “very uncomfortable” to “very comfortable.” They were also asked how often they felt they could not express their opinion because of how other students, faculty, or the administration would respond (options ranged from “never” to “very often”); if they were worried about damaging their reputation because of someone misunderstanding something they have said or done (options ranged from “worried a lot” to “not at all worried”); and if they felt pressure to avoid discussing controversial topics in their classes (options ranged from “no pressure at all” to “a great deal of pressure”). Responses were coded so that higher scores indicated greater comfort expressing ideas. The maximum number of points was 34.

  • Tolerance for Liberal Speakers: Students were asked whether four speakers espousing views potentially offensive to conservatives (e.g., “Undocumented immigrants should be given the right to vote”) should be allowed on campus, regardless of whether they personally agreed with the speaker’s message. Options ranged from “definitely should not allow this speaker” to “definitely should allow this speaker” and were coded so that higher scores indicated more tolerance of the speaker (i.e., they should be allowed on campus). The maximum number of points was 16.

  • Tolerance for Conservative Speakers: Students were also asked whether four speakers espousing views potentially offensive to liberals (e.g., “Black Lives Matter is a hate group”) should be allowed on campus, regardless of whether they personally agreed with the speaker’s message. Scoring was performed in the same manner as the Tolerance for Liberal Speakers sub-component, and the maximum number of points was 16.

  • Disruptive Conduct: Students were asked how acceptable or unacceptable it is to engage in different methods of protest against a campus speaker. These included “Shouting down a speaker or trying to prevent them from speaking on campus,” “Blocking other students from attending a campus speech,” and “Using violence to stop a campus speech.” Options ranged from “always acceptable” to “never acceptable” and were coded so that higher scores indicated less acceptance of disruptive conduct. The maximum number of points was 12.

  • Administrative Support: Students were asked how clear their campus administration’s stance on free speech was and how likely the administration would be to defend a speaker's right to express their views if a controversy over speech occurred on campus. For the administrative stance question, options ranged from “not at all clear” to “extremely clear”; for the administrative controversy question, options ranged from “not at all likely” to “extremely likely.” Options were coded so that higher scores indicated greater clarity and greater likelihood of defending a speaker’s rights. The maximum number of points was 10.

  • Openness: Finally, students were asked which of 17 issues (e.g., abortion, freedom of speech, gun control, or racial inequality) were difficult to have open conversations about on campus. Students also could select an option stating that none of these issues was difficult to discuss. Responses were coded so that higher scores indicated fewer issues being selected. The maximum number of points was 17.

Two additional constructs, Mean Tolerance and Tolerance Difference, were computed from the Tolerance for Liberal/Conservative Speaker sub-components. Tolerance Difference was calculated by subtracting Tolerance for Conservative Speakers from Tolerance for Liberal Speakers and then taking the absolute value (so that a bias on either side would be treated the same).

Administrative Behavior

The administrative behavior sub-components included:

  • Supported Scholars 2019 to 2022: The number of scholars whose speech rights were supported by the administration at a school during a free expression controversy over a four-year time period as recorded by FIRE’s Scholar’s Under Fire Database.1 This support was unequivocal; if an administration condemned the speech, apologized for the scholar’s expression, or sanctioned the scholar, despite issuing a statement of support, it was not included in a school’s total.

  • Sanctioned Scholars 2019 to 2022: The number of scholars sanctioned (e.g., placed under investigation, suspended, or terminated) at a school over a four-year period, as recorded in FIRE’s Scholars Under Fire Database.

  • Successful Disinvitations 2019 to 2022: The number of successful disinvitations that occurred at a school over a four-year time period as recorded by FIRE’s Campus Disinvitation Database.2

  • FIRE Speech Code Rating: FIRE rates the written policies governing student speech at more than 475 institutions of higher education in the United States. Three substantive ratings are possible: Red, Yellow, or Green (actually “red light,” “yellow light,” and “green light”). A rating of Red indicates that the institution has at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech. Colleges with Yellow ratings have policies that restrict a more limited amount of protected expression or, by virtue of their vague wording, could too easily be used to restrict protected expression. The policies of an institution with a Green rating do not seriously threaten speech, although this rating does not indicate whether a college actively supports free expression. Finally, a fourth rating, Warning, is assigned to a private college or university when its policies clearly and consistently state that it prioritizes other values over a commitment to freedom of speech. Warning schools therefore were not ranked, and their overall scores are presented separately in this report.3


    1 The Scholars Under Fire Database is on FIRE’s website at https://www.thefire.org/research/publications/miscellaneous-publications/scholars-under-fire/. For 2022, the cutoff date for inclusion was July 1, 2022.
    2 The Campus Disinvitation database is on FIRE’s website at https://www.thefire.org/research/disinvitation-database/. For 2022, the cutoff date was July 1, 2022.
    3 The Spotlight Database is on FIRE’s website at https://www.thefire.org/resources/spotlight/.