Introducing FIRE Summer Intern Kanisha Parthasarathy

By June 18, 2013

Kanisha Parthasarathy is a rising junior at the University of Pennsylvania majoring in English. On campus, she sits on the executive boards of two student government branches: the Nominations & Elections Committee, a branch that administers fair elections and nominations processes for the university, and the Student Activities Council, which administers funding for student groups. She is also on the executive board for Penn for Youth Debate, a volunteer organization that teaches debate at Philadelphia high schools and middle schools.  On why she decided to intern at FIRE, Kanisha writes:  One of the most important lessons I’ve ever been taught was about the value of having an opponent in a debate. I was told that to understand the truth, you must hear both sides of the argument. This mantra is central not only to understanding debate (an activity that is near to my heart) but to learning in general. While the idea may be simple and appear to be a crucial feature of any institution of higher education, the freedom to express multiple points of view on a topic is one that has been suppressed in many colleges and universities around the country.I learned about FIRE from a couple of previous interns who had come from my school, and after doing some research, I realized the importance and relevance of its mission. I am fortunate to attend a "green light" school, with policies that respect student speech rights; however, many students are not as lucky. The number of cases in which basic forms of expression are suppressed is shocking. Particularly as a member of Penn’s student organization that allocates funds to other student groups, reading about cases where student groups were threatened with de-funding as a result of their viewpoints (such as the College Republicans at Central Washington University) made FIRE’s mission seem even more salient. What made these types of cases stand out to me was that the First Amendment rights of students were being stripped by other students. These students are losing sight of what makes a complete education and imposing unconstitutional mandates on other students, so that only some viewpoints can be heard. Understanding an issue is not only about having an argument, but being able to defend your stance when challenged. As a debater, you learn the value in having an opponent who is able to critique your positions, as you are forced to find multiple layers of reasoning as to why your arguments are better or true. When students are unable to even express their stance, the preferred opinion goes untested, thus creating an environment that is free from productive or educational discussion. FIRE’s mission is central to keeping academic discourse alive and I’m eager to work for that cause.  Welcome, Kanisha! Help support our 2013 interns by visiting thefire.org/interns.