Let freedom be cherished that learning may flourish.

FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) School Spotlight

FIRE’s Spotlight Database rates policies that regulate student expression at over 475 colleges and universities. Public institutions bound by the First Amendment and private schools that promise free speech rights are rated as “green light,” “yellow light,” or “red light” institutions based on the extent to which they restrict free speech. “Warning” schools are private institutions that clearly prioritize other values above free speech.

As the rating is based on written policies, it does not take other institutional actions into account. This does not preclude FIRE from taking action in defense of student and faculty rights. You can find more information about specific incidents of censorship and violations of due process on each school’s entry.

FIRE is proud to offer the only database of United States college speech policies, the Spotlight Database. FIRE rates more than 475 of the nation’s top colleges and universities, so navigating the system can be intimidating. With that in mind, we present the following guide to using our database.

FIRE’s Speech Code Ratings

Red Light
A “red light” institution has at least one red light policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech. A “clear” restriction is one that unambiguously infringes on what is, or should be, protected expression. In other words, the threat to free speech at a red light institution is obvious on the face of the policy and does not depend on how the policy is applied.

In addition, when a university restricts access to its speech-related policies by requiring a login and password, it denies prospective students and their parents the ability to weigh this crucial information. At FIRE, we consider this action by a university to be deceptive and serious enough that it alone warrants a “red light” rating.

At public institutions, red light policies are unconstitutional.

Yellow Light
A “yellow light” institution has at least one yellow light policy that restricts a more limited amount of protected expression or, by virtue of vague wording, can too easily be used to restrict protected expression.

For example, a ban on “posters containing references to alcohol or drugs” violates the right to free speech because it unambiguously restricts speech on the basis of content and viewpoint. However, its scope is very limited, so it may receive a yellow light.

Alternatively, a policy banning “verbal abuse” could be applied to prohibit a substantial amount of protected speech, but is not a red light violation because “abuse” might refer only to unprotected speech, such as harassment (as properly defined by law) or threats of violence. In other words, the extent of the threat to free speech would depend on how such a policy is applied.

At public institutions, yellow light policies are unconstitutional.

Green Light
If a college or university’s policies do not seriously imperil speech, that college or university receives a “green light.” A green light does not by itself guarantee that a school actively supports free expression. It simply means that FIRE is not currently aware of any serious threats to students’ free speech rights in the written policies on that campus. Individual policies that do not threaten free expression also receive green light ratings.

How FIRE Determines Overall School Ratings

To determine a school’s overall rating, FIRE employs the following system:

  • In order to earn an overall green light rating, a school must not maintain any policies that earn a red or yellow light rating. 
  • A school earns an overall yellow light rating if it maintains at least one policy that earns a yellow light rating, but does not maintain any policies that earn a red light rating.
  • Institutions receive an overall red light rating when they maintain at least one policy that earns a red light rating. 

To be clear, FIRE does not produce an “average” of an institution’s policy ratings to determine an overall rating; a school with five yellow light policies and one red light policy earns an overall red light rating, just as a school with one yellow light policy and five red light policies earns an overall red light rating. (Aside from at green light schools, it is unusual for every policy at an institution to have the same rating.)




Davidson College

Location: Davidson, North Carolina

Type: Private

Tell Davidson College to revise its speech policies by filling out this form.


Speech Code Rating

Davidson College has been given the speech code rating Yellow. Yellow light colleges and universities are those institutions with at least one ambiguous policy that too easily encourages administrative abuse and arbitrary application.


Speech Code Rating: Yellow
Speech Code Category: Internet Usage Policies
Last updated: March 22, 2021

Unauthorized use of the Davidson network includes, but is not limited to the following illustrative examples: mass emails; sending excessive amounts of e-mail to a user (mail bombing)

Speech Code Rating: Yellow
Speech Code Category: Posting and Distribution Policies
Last updated: March 22, 2021

The Davidson College Statement of Purpose states “As a college that welcomes students, faculty, and staff from a variety of nationalities, ethnic groups, and traditions, Davidson values diversity, recognizing the dignity and worth of every person.”

Flags and banners may be hung out of the windows of resident rooms and off Martin Court apartment porches, provided they are not in conflict with the above referenced principle.

Flags and banners must be registered with RLO prior to hanging them and may not be displayed until the registering person has received written notification from RLO and the permission of the roommate(s) or apartment-mates…

Items that may conflict with the Statement of Purpose will be referred to the Flag and Banner Committee (FBC) for prompt review, and the majority decision will determine outcome. Any member of the community who objects to a flag or banner may request the FBC review the item and/or have RLO facilitate a conversation between that individual and the person displaying the flag.

Speech Code Rating: Yellow
Speech Code Category: Posting and Distribution Policies
Last updated: March 22, 2021

Flyers may only be hung on designated public spaces in residential areas.…

Flyers that are hung in designated public spaces that conflict with the Davidson College statement of purpose, or those that promote violations of campus policy or illegal activities are prohibited and may be removed.

Speech Code Rating: Yellow
Speech Code Category: Policies on Tolerance, Respect, and Civility
Last updated: March 22, 2021

Students are expected to develop social skills and relations which are mutually beneficial and which lead to personal maturity. Social conduct is therefore to be based upon concern for others. For example, students have the obligation to avoid any action which might impair the well-being or reputation of guests. Residence hall units, fraternities, and other social organizations have a special responsibility to promote these standards of conduct.

Speech Code Rating: Yellow
Speech Code Category: Harassment Policies
Last updated: March 22, 2021

Harassment is unwanted behavior that has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with a person’s or a group of persons’ educational, work, social or living activities. As such, it violates this Code and, in some cases, federal or state law. Harassment can take many forms. Types of harassment include:

    • Peer harassment involves persistent, intentional degradation, intimidation, or abuse of another person.
    • Quid pro quo harassment involves abuse of one’s power, authority, or position such that,
      • a. Submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s education or employment; or
      • b. Submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for academic or employment decisions affecting the individual’s welfare.
    • Hostile environment harassment involves conduct that substantially interferes with an individual’s educational, work, social, or living environment.
    • Discriminatory harassment involves conduct of an offensive, demeaning, intimidating or hostile nature based on race, color, national origin, religion, gender1, orientation, age or disability.


Speech Code Rating: Green
Speech Code Category: Harassment Policies
Last updated: August 20, 2021

Sexual Harassment “Sexual Harassment” is defined as unwelcome conduct that has the effect of substantially interfering with a person’s work or educational opportunity; and

    1. conduct is sufficiently severe, pervasive, and objectionably offensive to create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work or educational environment such that the person is effectively denied equal access to institutional resources and opportunities; or
    2. the submission to or rejection of such conduct is used as the basis for decisions affecting an individual’s employment, education, or participation in College Programs or Activities.

Sexual harassment denies an individual dignity and respect and may take on different forms. It includes, but is not limited to the following examples when the conduct meets the standards of the definition above:

a. Unwelcome verbal, written, or physical conduct that denigrates or shows hostility or aversion toward an individual because of that individual’s gender or gender identity (or that of an individual’s relatives, friends, or associates);

b. Unwelcome threats, derogatory comments, jokes, innuendos, insults, slurs, epithets, negative stereotyping, and other similar conduct that relates to gender or gender identity; or

c. The placement, dissemination, or circulation on campus of any unwelcome written or graphic material (in hard copy or electronic form) that denigrates or shows hostility or aversion toward an individual or group because of gender or gender identity.

Speech Code Rating: Green
Speech Code Category: Protest and Demonstration Policies
Last updated: March 31, 2021

The College may not infringe upon the rights of students, particularly those of freedom of speech, of peaceable assembly, and the right of petition. The student is both a citizen and a member of the College.

Students and their organizations are free to examine and discuss all questions of interest and to express opinions publicly and privately. They are also free to support issues by orderly means which do not disrupt operations essential to the function of the College, which shall establish reasonable regulations, equitably applied, as to time, manner, and place of assembly.


Speech Code Rating: Green
Speech Code Category: Policies on Bias and Hate Speech
Last updated: July 16, 2021

A bias incident is also an offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by the offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnic origin, sexual orientation or gender identity BUT may not rise to the level of a crime. The college will not discipline students for offenses that do not violate college policy.

In addition, bias incident response is not intended to prohibit or discourage the exchange of ideas that occur in the classroom or workplace. As stated in the College Constitution, Davidson College is committed to the principles of free speech and academic freedom. In discussions of controversial, sensitive, or political topics, ideas may be exchanged in a way that causes others to feel bias. If this occurs, the Assistant Dean of Students for Diversity and Inclusion offers opportunities for support, learning, and increased awareness. These opportunities are voluntary and are not intended to impinge on the rights of others.

Examples of Behaviors that may be Considered Bias Incidents

    1. Racial and Ethnic Stereotype Theme Parties – Student organizations and Greek letter organizations that host theme parties or Halloween parties that encourage people to wear costumes and act out in ways that reinforce stereotypes create a campus climate that is hostile to racial and ethnic minority groups.
    2. Bias in the Classroom – Professors who make pejorative comments or stereotypes about a protected class of people, i.e. females, religious minorities, racial minority groups, or people with disabilities are also guilty of committing a bias incident. Because of the power dynamics that exist between students and professors, students may be reluctant about confronting the professor about the offense fearing that it may negatively affect their grade in the class.
    3. Harassing Comments in the Work Place – Making sexual comments, jokes, or gestures may create a hostile work environment. Even displaying pictures and items that convey sexually inappropriate messages may also contribute to the climate in the work place. Various people can be negatively affected by these comments and images, including bystanders.


Speech Code Rating: Green
Speech Code Category: Harassment Policies
Last updated: March 22, 2021

Sexual harassment means conduct on the basis of sex that satisfies one or more of the following: … Unwelcome conduct determined by a reasonable person to be so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to the College’s Education Programs or Activities.


Speech Code Rating: Green
Speech Code Category: Advertised Commitments to Free Expression
Last updated: March 22, 2021

Davidson prepares many of its students for graduate and professional study, it intends to teach all students to think clearly, to make relevant and valid judgments, to discriminate among values, and to communicate freely with others in the realm of ideas