At FIRE, one of our first pieces of advice to students seeking to get involved in activism on campus is to build coalitions with diverse student groups, as well as individual students. This advice is especially true in regard to FIRE’s new fall 2018 toolkit, Commit to Expression. This semester’s toolkit focuses on encouraging students to work toward the adoption of a free speech policy statement in the model of the “Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression” at the University of Chicago (the “Chicago Statement”).
Sure, we often recommend building coalitions with other student groups and individual students to accomplish activism goals. But why is coalition building so important to students working on this particular toolkit? Because the adoption of a free speech policy statement ensures that all voices on campus are heard, no matter their cause or viewpoint. Therefore, this toolkit provides students with the opportunity to reach out to student groups they might not normally work with to encourage the university to adopt a positive statement of values about free expression.
A principled free speech statement can be a rallying point for all sorts of student organizations. Both the College Democrats and the College Republicans — and everyone in between and beyond — can get behind a statement of values that outlines the university’s commitment to expression and encourages all students to speak up, no matter their political persuasion.
Likewise, asking your college or university to commit to protecting and encouraging freedom of expression is the best way to protect freedom of association — your right to form groups based on ideas and values you find important and would like to advance — on campus. Adopting such a statement is truly in the best interest of all student organizations on campus.
The Chicago Statement pledges the university to broadly encourage robust debate and free inquiry:
Because the University is committed to free and open inquiry in all matters, it guarantees all members of the University community the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn.
A unified message from diverse student organizations sends a strong signal to administrators — and fellow students — that adopting a free speech statement is something they should consider for themselves. After all, a chorus of voices can be more effective than one lone student group or individual.
Perhaps you could set up a debate between two student organizations with opposing views to showcase how important debate and dialogue are on campus. What about partnering with another student group to sponsor a speaker? The possibilities are endless. Want more ideas about how to put FIRE’s 2018 Commit to Expression toolkit into action on your campus? Sign up for the toolkit here, or contact us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.