President Obama has a message for America's college students about free speech on campus

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a visit to Boise State University in Idaho January 21, 2015. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque Obama visits Boise, Idaho to expand upon his State of the Union addressThomson Reuters

Student activism has long been ingrained in the culture on college campuses, but protests over racism in recent months have been especially tense.

In a recent interview with NPR's Steve Inskeep, President Barack Obama suggested that some of those student protesters might be silencing opposing viewpoints.

"I do think that there have been times on college campuses where I get concerned that the unwillingness to hear other points of view can be as unhealthy on the left as on the right," Obama told Inskeep.

"What I don't want is a situation in which particular points of view that are presented respectfully and reasonably are shut down, and we have seen that sometimes happen," he continued.

Obama is speaking about the protests that have proliferated at campuses across the US - from the University of Missouri to the East Coast Ivy League to California-based Claremont McKenna - which have resulted in promises from some administrators to add cultural centers or funding for diversity projects on campus.

The protests have largely centered on pervasive racism at colleges and a feeling of marginalization by students of color.

Erika ChristakisErika ChristakisYale College

And the protests have sometimes turned ugly. At Yale University, after weeks of protests, tension escalated when a group of students confronted professor and administrator Nicholas Christakis, shouting expletives, and demanding an apology for his words and those of his wife.

The ire developed as a result of Christakis' wife, Erika Christakis - an associate master at Yale's Silliman College - who sent an email in response to an Intercultural Affairs Council email that called on students to be sensitive about the cultural implications of their Halloween costumes, as Inside Higher Ed reported. Silliman College is one of 12 residential colleges, also known as dormitories, at Yale.

Christakis supported students' right to dress in any costumes they liked, offensive or not.

Obama did not get into specifics about which schools or protests that he felt crossed the line from beneficial activism to a dangerous sort of censure, instead speaking broadly about students not shutting down their opponents' voices.

And he encouraged young people's passion to engage with authority and push forward on social justice.

"It's a healthy thing for young people to be engaged and to question authority and to ask why this instead of that, to ask tough questions about social justice," he said.

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