Researchers across a diverse spectrum have examined free speech and the relationship between “political correctness” and “multiculturalism.” I have contributed to the current literature by taking an empirical approach to these questions. I sought to answer three questions: what are the cultures of free speech and “political correctness” on college campuses, how this impacts the construction of free speech on college campuses, and what the best path forward is for colleges across the United States. To accomplish my research, I took a multifaceted approach that included primary research, data collection, and interviews. Three schools: Union College, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, and Michigan State University allowed me to make unique comparisons and contrasts.
I conclude that there is no singular culture of free speech or “political correctness” that can characterize colleges across the United States. Instead of a culture, there are two very different perspectives. Under these two contrasting perspectives, there is no way to judge the other in an unbiased way. While I initially looked at just political correctness, I found that the worldviews completely differ between those against political correctness and those in favor of multiculturalism. Ultimately examining the relationship between free speech and the debate between “political correctness” and “multiculturalism” revealed that free speech is conceptualized based on political affiliation. Those against political correctness believe the ability to offend in an uncensored way is a necessity in order to have true free speech on a college campus. Contrarily, multiculturalists believe that society must come to an agreement about what is deemed acceptable forms of speech in order to then have a discussion, and to not do so is itself a form of censorship because certain speech is unacceptable discourse. This contrast has implications for how colleges should structure classrooms and education. I conclude that both sides of the debate bring up useful points, but fail to concede the legitimacy of the opposition’s claims, which causes much of the controversy seen on college campuses today on these topics.