Introducing FIRE Summer Intern Madeline Gootman

By on June 17, 2013

Madeline Gootman is a rising junior at Vanderbilt University, where she is double majoring in political science and women and gender studies. She is also pursuing a minor in Spanish, her love for which she recently reaffirmed by studying abroad in Peru. In addition to studying abroad, Madeline has enhanced her education through courses in the university’s College Scholars Program, her own independent research, and an undergraduate summer position with the Vanderbilt Ad Rating Project. Madeline is a member of Kappa Delta social sorority and serves as the chapter’s Academic Excellence Chair. She also works at the Margaret Cuninggim Women’s Center on Vanderbilt’s campus and previously interned for their Kitchen Table Series program. She will also be joining the Women’s Center’s newly formed Peer Sex Educators program this fall.  On her decision to join the FIRE staff as a summer intern, Madeline writes:  To explain why I came to FIRE, I turn to a joke my friends commonly make about me: "I hope you like feminist rants because that’s kinda my thing." Apparently, it is a quote from a television show, and I like it. The statement is fitting. I do have a lot of angry, liberal, feminist rants under my belt; subsequently many of my peers and coworkers were surprised to learn in April that I accepted an internship at FIRE for the summer. While they knew of FIRE’s work defending the rights and liberties of students on campus, they were uncomfortable with FIRE’s analysis of sexual harassment policies as "overbroad" and FIRE’s public opposition to Vanderbilt’s "all-comers" policy. The confusion of my coworkers allowed me the perfect opportunity to express the basis of my political beliefs: the guarantee of liberty. I came to FIRE this summer in order to protect my right to freely rant about hardcore, second-wave, feminist ideology. However, in order to protect my rants, I must also defend the rights of those individuals whose views are the complete opposite of my own to freely rant themselves. The skill that I hope to gain from working at FIRE is the professionalism that comes from objective casework. Defending speech that conflicts with my belief system’s core will shape my experience at FIRE. While I may hold different views from those I will defend, the opportunity to express my views is dependent on the opportunity of all to voice their opinions.  What is the purpose of uncontested expression? Without contrast and opposition in debate, my views will have nothing to fight against, nothing to mold them into stronger and better informed arguments, no audience to educate or improve in turn. When I debated in high school, my coach always assigned me the position with which I disagreed. Her method of teaching required me to become a better debater by forming arguments in order to defend a position that I abhorred. However, the most important skill that this practice taught me was the ability to look at an issue from all angles and all perspectives. This new understanding of the opposition strengthened my previously held beliefs. It is an axiom of strategy that in order to improve one’s plan, one must know the opposition. When universities limit the expression of unpopular opinions on their campuses, they deny their students the opportunity to grow as academics and individuals. In the absence of conflict, there cannot be any idea, proposal, or belief that is strengthened to a point of resilience. Humanity’s best ideas are those that have been torn down and rebuilt a thousand times. The wisdom found in Proverbs 27:17 expresses this age-old sentiment: "As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens the wits of another." Welcome, Madeline! Support FIRE’s internship program today at thefire.org/interns.