Post-secondary campus communities are made up of people from all walks of life—with different political views, religious beliefs, and lived experiences. This is what makes our campuses so diverse, and these differences should be celebrated and encouraged so that people can feel comfortable to express themselves, and to engage in discourse with their peers in an inclusive learning space.

Preliminary results of an ongoing study on student expression conducted by researchers from Canadian universities indicate potential concerns around issues of self-censorship, freedom of inquiry, and discrimination on university campuses.

Preliminary Highlights from the Study 

Of roughly 1000 student participants from 20 universities across Canada, 59% answered yes to the question of “Have you ever censured yourself during discussions with professors or other students,” for example, when expressing oneself on campus.  

About 1 in 5 students indicated that they would be either somewhat reluctant or very reluctant to share their views on a controversial issue in class. When that controversial issue addressed politics or religion, 1 in 2 students answered that they would be somewhat or very reluctant.  

Further results from the study also indicate that close to 1 in 4 students support the cancellation of lectures and events when the speaker discusses controversial or triggering topics. 

These findings reflect the tensions that exist between opposing perspectives—one whereby open expression needs to be protected and promoted, and another whereby universities must provide assurances of protection from views, ideas, opinions that could cause discomfort or disagreement. The researchers also note that a recurrent theme in the qualitative responses indicated a wish for wider recognition that academic freedom and respect for diversity can indeed co-exist.

There is a need for a new campus culture wherein respectful discussion of difficult moral and political views is encouraged, and critical thinking on controversial issues is allowed without shaming.

Want to participate in the study?

Students at all levels of study enrolled in a Canadian university are invited to participate in the study by responding to the survey here.

Participants who reach the end of the survey will have the opportunity to enter a draw to win one of twenty $50 Amazon gift cards. Odds of winning are estimated at 1 in 24. The survey takes approximately 10 minutes to complete, and all responses are strictly anonymous. 

This project is led by Prof. Martin Drapeau of McGill University, and involves researchers from McGill University, the University of Manitoba, the University of British Columbia, and Vancouver Community College. It has received ethics approval from McGill University (REB#21-08-013) and partner universities. 

Gina Cormier


Researcher, McGill University