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America’s culture wars advancing on college campuses

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Eric Galatas

(Wyoming News Service) High school graduates are considering state and university positions on a number of hot-button issues - including abortion, gun, and anti-LGBTQ laws - as they decide where to invest in higher education. 

Jon Marcus - higher education editor with the nonprofit Hechinger Report - said many students have gotten offers from colleges in states with laws and policies they disagree with, and have chosen not to go.

"And that's a big cost to colleges," said Marcus. "Colleges are fighting right now for students. And if students are making decisions based on how well a college might have handled, for example, a controversial speaker - and thereby alienating some prospective applicants - that's going to hurt that college."

The Hechinger Report's new College Welcome Guide ranks four-year schools on free speech, the number of students from rural areas, and lists those that have banned diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

It also provides data on gender and racial diversity among students and faculty, the number of veteran students enrolled, and racially motivated hate crimes.

Students of all races and across the political spectrum have reported that they do not feel safe on campus. 

Marcus said those with more liberal views are angry about laws banning diversity and abortion, while students on the right aren't happy about conservative speakers being shouted down or canceled.

"They also say that they don't feel they can speak freely in a classroom out of fear that they will be called out by their classmates, or even by their faculty," said Marcus. "There's just a lot of angst now on college campuses, which should be places where people feel comfortable to speak honestly."

A recent survey found that nearly a third of students do not feel they belong, and are more likely to drop out. One in four Hispanic students have experienced disrespect, discrimination or harassment. 

Marcus noted that self-segregation at colleges comes at a high cost.

"If we're not around other people who are different from us - socio-economically, racially, in terms of sexual orientation and political persuasion," said Marcus, "how will we ever really understand those other points of view? If those people are not represented on college campuses because they don't think they belong there, that's just going to make things worse."

Support for this reporting was provided by Lumina Foundation.