VIDEO: How FIRE Helped Me Learn to Defend My Rights While I Was in College

By on December 6, 2012

FIRE has many programs to help students understand their rights on campus. As a recent college graduate once in need of FIRE’s help, nobody understands the importance of these programs more than I do.

During my sophomore year at Indiana University, I served as the president of a liberty-oriented student group. Since the group was registered with the university, we qualified for student-fee funding for our events. When we applied for funding to bring Tom Woods, a libertarian-leaning economist and historian to campus, we were promptly denied based on what we believed to be an ideological basis. We didn’t know where to turn or even if the university’s denial was constitutional. Thankfully, a few weeks prior, we had received a package with various informational materials, including FIRE’s Guides to Student Rights on Campus

Remembering the Guides, I turned to the Guide to Student Fees, Funding, and Legal Equality on Campus to learn about the constitutionality of the university’s decision. In the Guide, I found what I was looking for. It explained the law surrounding student-fee funding clearly and concisely and also suggested the best methods of requesting funds for my student organization. While I learned that the university’s decision was not necessarily unconstitutional because there were other, more viewpoint-neutral channels to receive student-fee funding—albeit channels that didn’t provide as much funding as the one we pursued—I also, more importantly, learned that I really didn’t know much about my rights as a college student.

For the president of a liberty-oriented student group, this was a rude awakening. Flipping through the pages of the Guides, I was shocked to learn how uninformed I was about my rights, and I soon found out I was not alone—many of my fellow classmates were similarly uneducated. So in 2010 in an effort to take back my rights, I applied to become a FIRE intern and was accepted into the program.

That summer in Philadelphia I received some of the best education available on free speech, due process, and legal equality. I learned from some of the brightest free speech advocates—including Alan Charles Kors, Michael Meyers, and Harvey Silverglate—about why a free marketplace of ideas is crucial to a university’s mission of uncovering and disseminating knowledge. I also spent ten weeks working alongside FIRE’s passionate and committed staff, learning how to effect real change and inform my peers of their rights once I returned to campus. That fall, that’s exactly what I did. Immediately after returning home, I took up a position within the student government as its co-executive director of legal affairs and led a fight against Indiana University’s speech codes. 

In the video below, I go into greater detail about my story and also give advice to students looking to fight speech codes on their campuses. 

But my story is not unique. (Indeed, a similar situation, also involving Tom Woods, cropped up just this fall at Michigan State!) Many former FIRE interns and countless other students and faculty members are fighting to defend their rights because of FIRE’s educational programs and materials. 

As of now, these resources are offered free of charge to anyone who wants them, thanks to generous gifts from thousands of supporters across the country. To ensure that these resources remain free to future students and faculty members in need of them, please consider a tax-exempt donation to FIRE today!