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Sixty percent of college students said they were reluctant to speak about at least one controversial topic—politics, religion, race, sexual orientation or gender—a new survey from Heterodox Academy found.

The annual survey, which received responses from 1,495 full-time U.S. college students aged between 18 and 24 in 2021, found that 39.5 percent of students were most reluctant to discuss politics, followed by religion at 31.8 percent and race at 27.5 percent. Republican and Independent students were more reluctant to discuss controversial topics than those who identified as Democrats, but all said they were most reluctant to talk about politics, with 34 percent of Democrats, 39 percent of Republicans and 44 percent of Independents responding that way.

Asian students and white students were more reluctant to discuss controversial topics than their Hispanic/Latino and Black peers, but all found politics the most uncomfortable to talk about.

Eighty-eight percent of students agreed that institutions should encourage “students and professors to interact respectfully with people whose beliefs differ from their own,” but 63 percent of students said campus climate “prevents people from saying things that they believe.”

The most common reason students cited for their reluctance to discuss controversial topics was concern that other students would “make critical comments with fellow students after class” (56 percent), followed by fear that they would be criticized “for being offensive” (52 percent) and worry that their classmates would “post critical comments on social media” (28 percent).

Sixty-three percent of students attended fully or primarily in-person classes in 2021, compared with only 11 percent of the sample in 2020’s survey. In 2021, 21.4 percent of students reported having “high-quality interactions” with classmates, compared to 9.1 percent in 2020. According to the survey, students who reported having lower-quality interactions with other students were more reluctant to discuss controversial topics. “This finding suggests that, in the future, professors may facilitate more critical conversations if they also facilitate students getting to know one another,” the survey states.