Luke Sommer is a Senior from Scottsdale, Az studying Public Policy with a minor in Economics and History. He is interested in the ethical questions of public policy issues. On campus, he is involved in a student-run business and co-founded EZTrain LLC, a company providing software solutions to the Air Force Reserves. In his free time, Luke enjoys playing basketball, surfing, and practicing the piano. After graduating from Duke, Luke plans on working for PJ Solomon in New York.
Finding a Middle Ground: Free Speech and Inclusivity
Faculty Advisor: Philip M. Napoli
Abstract: Free speech policy on college campuses faces the unique challenge of balancing the allowance of open expression with the protection of a safe, inclusive community. In an effort to address the growing concern of self-censorship and limited civil discourse on college campuses, researchers have conducted nationwide surveys measuring student perception. While these surveys provide valuable insight into understanding general trends in free speech opinions, they fail to explore the motivation and rationale behind these beliefs. This study analyzes comprehensive interview data from 17 Duke undergraduates who shared their opinions surrounding controversial free speech incidents. It found that interviewees typically demonstrated a strong understanding of the core principles of free speech but failed to differentiate between protected versus unprotected speech; interviewees also revealed poor familiarity with Duke speech policy. Respondents’ perceptions of contentious free speech incidents fell consistently along party lines, but respondents overall demonstrated a nuanced understanding of hate speech and how it differs from other racist/bigoted speech. Finally, interviewees regarded Duke’s speech policy as vague, superficial, and overly subjective. This study leverages students’ sentiments in order to recommend a more comprehensive, concrete speech policy that balances a dedication to open expression with key protections for marginalized students.