FIRE’s Campus Freedom Network’s Student Spotlight recognizes students who are doing exemplary work to advance civil liberties on their campuses. FIRE is proud to recognize Caitlin Grimes, president of Marshall University’s Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) chapter. Caitlin, a junior studying political science, has been working tirelessly to make Marshall University more friendly toward free speech. Currently, Marshall has a “red light” rating in our Spotlight Database. “I made it my mission to change this before I graduate so as to ensure that Marshall will grow to become an even greater university,” Caitlin says. The Marshall chapter of YAL plans to do this by lobbying their student government to take a stand. They hope to gain momentum by circulating a petition and hosting a FIRE speaker.
We applaud Caitlin and her group for their hard work! As always, FIRE stands by ready to help student groups from across the ideological spectrum advocate on behalf of civil liberties and free speech on their campuses.
FIRE asked Caitlin to share her experience fighting for free speech on campus, and she offers great advice for students looking to defend student rights.
FIRE: What inspired you to promote free speech on campus?
CAITLIN: I was really inspired by one of my fellow students at Marshall to become involved in the free speech movement on campus. He was a veteran and had discussed with me frequently the roadblocks he had encountered upon returning to school from active service. He informed me about FIRE and Marshall’s horrible ranking as one of the worst campuses for free speech in the country. Free speech is in my opinion one of the greatest freedoms we enjoy here in the United States and it should be preserved especially in places of higher education where ideas grow.
FIRE: What are the policies you are trying to change at Marshall University and why are they problematic?
CAITLIN: The main issue with Marshall University’s policies are they are too broad and too subjective. The student code of conduct can easily be manipulated to charge students with harassment when in truth it is just not the case. The university uses this to censor student groups, especially via groups’ publications and flyers, because they deem them too offensive or problematic. It is also rumored that a new cyber policy is in the works that would allow things students say on Facebook and other social media sites to be brought up in [disciplinary] cases.
I think this is so problematic because it allows for subjective judgement. Students can be put on probation, lose scholarships, and even be expelled over their opinion.
FIRE: What have you been doing on campus to challenge these policies?
CAITLIN: Our Young Americans for Liberty chapter has been doing numerous things to keep the free speech movement on campus going. We had a huge success with our free speech wall earlier this year and have made numerous requests to student government as well as the administration to start the process of reviewing the student codes of conduct. Our plan is to start a petition and bring a FIRE speaker to campus in the next few weeks for a final democratic push for change. It is our hope that with more student support, our movement will gain more momentum, and the administration will no longer be able to ignore our request.
FIRE: What has been the most difficult part of challenging your school’s policies? The most exciting?
CAITLIN: The most difficult part of challenging the policies is working with the administration and gaining school-wide support. Many students do not even read the student handbook until it is too late. Some individuals even suggest that we are in the wrong for wanting to change these policies that so help students. That’s where the most exciting part of this movement comes in. Educating our fellow students on free speech and how amazing our campus would be if it truly practiced free speech. It so invigorating to see a fellow student become passionate about what they have to say and their right to say it.
FIRE: What advice do you have for other students who want to promote student rights on their campuses?
CAITLIN: My advice to fellow students wanting to promote student rights is don’t give up easy and make sure to have a tough skin. Doing something you know is right and meaningful will never be easy and you will face opposition from students and the administration. Never let those people damper your passion or your efforts. True passion is infectious and if you stay true to your course, others will follow and real change will come.
Are you interested in reforming your school’s policies? Have you held a successful event and want to share? Want to nominate yourself or someone you know for Student Spotlight? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!