Today’s college freshmen are more likely to protest than students in the ’60s and ’70s

Students from 17 Boston-area schools demonstrated against racial inequality in November.
Students from 17 Boston-area schools demonstrated against racial inequality in November. –Olivia Spinale/

Wearing flower crowns and Bell Bottoms, college students in the late ’60s and early ’70s were known for their activism on campus. But a new survey released Thursday revealed that the incoming class of college freshmen is more likely to participate in campus protests than students who toted “Make Love, Not War’’ signs in the past.

Nearly one in 10 freshmen said there was a “very good chance’’ they would participate in a protest in college, according to the Annual Freshman Survey by the Cooperative Institutional Research Program.

Black students were even more likely to say they would protest, with 16 percent reporting that they had a “very good chance’’ of demonstrating for a cause while in college — 5.5 percentage points higher than in 2014. The survey responses come after a wave of campus demonstrations this past fall, when students at more than 120 schools across the nation held anti-racism demonstrations in the form of marches, rallies, and sit-ins.


“Student activism seems to be experiencing a revival, and last fall’s incoming freshman class appears more likely than any before it to take advantage of opportunities to participate in this part of the political process,’’ said Kevin Eagan, director of the program that published the report, in a statement. “We observed substantial gains in students’ interest in political and community engagement across nearly every item on the survey related to these issues.’’

The authors also found that today’s college freshmen are more liberal and less religious than students in the past. One-third of those surveyed described themselves as “liberal,’’ the highest number in four decades, while one-fifth identified as “conservative.’’ The majority of students supported same-sex marriage, abortion rights, affirmative action, legalizing marijuana, and equal pay for women.

This is the first year that the survey asked students about their sexual orientation. Researchers found that students who identified as bisexual, gay, lesbian, queer or “other’’ were more often depressed than students who identified as straight. This was a sign that these students might be more likely to visit their college’s counseling center, many of which are understaffed and underresourced.

This is also the first year that students answered questions about their ability to finance college. More than one-fourth of students surveyed said they needed Pell grants, the federal financial aid program for low-income students. The overwhelming majority of students receiving Pell grants said they were concerned about their ability to pay for college, and needed to take out more loans than students whose families were able to help them pay for college.


This is the 50th year the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles has published the survey. Researchers collected responses from more than 141,000 first-year students during their first few weeks of school at 199 four-year U.S. colleges and universities, including Northeastern University, Suffolk University, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

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