Meet FIRE Summer Intern Emily Harrison from the University of Wisconsin-Madison

By June 11, 2012

Emily Harrison

Emily Harrison, from Oaks, Pennsylvania (near Valley Forge), is a rising senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she is studying political science and history. Emily previously worked as an intern for the Wisconsin State Assembly in 2011.

Of her decision to come to FIRE this summer, Emily writes:

Attending UW-Madison, which features a politically active campus, has spurred my interest in the First Amendment and, in particular, freedom of speech issues as pertains to college campuses. UW’s reputation for political activism largely arises from the 1960s Vietnam War era and civil rights movement. During that time, UW students and professors organized teach-ins and protests and disseminated information to disrupt the presence of visiting army recruiters. These activities also tended to encourage many students and faculty on UW’s campus to contribute to anti-war expression. This phenomenon of politicization could also be seen this past year in the city of Madison as thousands of Wisconsinites travelled to the state capitol building in Madison. Citizens joined ongoing peaceful protests to challenge the Wisconsin 2011-2013 Biennial Budget proposals and other policy measures being considered at that time. By personally observing these political protests in Madison during 2011 and 2012, I learned that protesting and engaging in core political speech can help to strengthen citizens’ involvement in government. Because citizen participation in public affairs is a positive indicator of the strength of American democracy, protecting an individual’s ability to engage in such speech is imperative. These political events strongly focused my attention on the First Amendment. I am particularly interested in the way in which speech intersects with the U.S. Constitution and in understanding what constitutes protected and unprotected speech.

At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I have taken a variety of courses relating to political science and history which, in turn, have led to my involvement with FIRE. For example, in the fall semester of my junior year, I had the opportunity to take a course on the First Amendment with an active member of the "Committee for Academic Freedom and Rights," Professor Donald Downs. While taking this course, I learned about the freedom of association, academic freedom, and categorical speech types. Furthermore, in December of 2011, FIRE’s President, Greg Lukianoff, came to speak to my First Amendment class. This lecture introduced me to FIRE’s mission to defend individual rights in education. FIRE’s initiatives and its involvement with many college and university free speech cases strongly resonated with me. Hoping to contribute to these efforts, I pursued an internship through FIRE’s Summer Internship Program.

In my current FIRE internship, I hope to learn more about legal precedents involving free speech on campus, student and faculty rights under the First Amendment, and how to apply such knowledge in defending free speech on my own college campus. I also hope to gain legal experience that can aid me in law school and in a future legal career. It is my ultimate wish to pursue a career related to the First Amendment and civil liberties.

Welcome Emily! To support FIRE’s Internship program, visit thefire.org/interns.