Counting Down the Top Five Reasons to Donate to FIRE: #4

December 15, 2009

Amanda Gonzalez is FIRE’s Drexel University Co-op and assists staff with the day-to-day operations of the office.

As a Drexel University student, I have had the privilege of working at FIRE for several months through a collaboration between FIRE and Drexel University’s Co-op Program. This is just one of three programs that FIRE hosts to educate regular students about FIRE’s mission and provide us with an in-depth examination of FIRE’s issues. Speaking from my experience here, the number four reason why you should invest in our work this holiday season is:

FIRE is proactive, working hard to stop college censorship before it starts. Not only do we remind college administrators of their moral and legal obligations to uphold student rights on their campuses, but we also educate current and prospective college students, parents, organizations, and even administrators, so that they can become free speech advocates on campus, themselves.

Some of FIRE’s most important educational tools are our Guides to Student Rights on Campus. These handbooks emphasize the importance of legal equality, self-governance, rule of law, and fair procedure. The Guides, which are largely aimed at students, provide a valuable resource for them to consult if they believe their rights may have been violated. Our newest publication, Correcting Common Mistakes in Campus Speech Policies, is tailored to college administrators. This publication makes it easy for administrators to do the right thing and protect speech on their campuses by helping them to identify where their university’s policies overstep their bounds, and how to easily correct such policies.

Spotlight: The Campus Freedom Resource is also an important part of FIRE’s educational arsenal. Using this tool, students can see if their school is one of the hundreds whose policies are rated by FIRE. The Spotlight database presents any past history of FIRE cases at a given school, as well as detailing the exact part or parts of each school’s policies that potentially or clearly restrict freedom of speech. Our Speech Code of the Month program serves a similar purpose, highlighting one university or college per month that currently has a particularly contemptible speech code. Check it out to see if the schools in your life have been naughty or nice this year!

Each year, FIRE conducts a high school essay contest on the topic of the importance of defending and sustaining individual rights on college campuses. Through this contest, we strive to arm students with the knowledge about their rights that they’ll need when they get to college. Today, we announced the 2009 winners!

FIRE works not only to teach students what they should “know before they go,” but also to provide hands-on education to current college students. Each summer, FIRE hosts a dedicated group of college interns. Through these programs, along with the co-op opportunity offered in partnership between FIRE and Drexel, FIRE turns regular students into FIRE ambassadors who return to their campuses and work to reform unjust policies.

The Campus Freedom Network (CFN) plays a large part in FIRE’s educational outreach. Through its Speakers Bureau, FIRE staffers travel to campuses across the country to give lectures, provide resources, and offer a personal connection to concerned students and professors. The CFN affords students from different universities the opportunity to collaborate and share ideas via its website and conferences, and also grants them access to FIRE allies, who hold a wealth of knowledge about campus rights.

FIRE’s newest tools are our educational videos, such as our Dave Barry video, “Radical Speech,” and “Think What We Think … Or Else: Thought Control on the American Campus.” Video has proven highly effective in spreading the word about our cause, and FIRE has decided to capitalize on this opportunity by hiring a new Video Fellow. We are currently in the process of raising the funds to make this a reality.

As we have learned over the past ten years, many students are eager to ensure that their rights are protected, and many administrators are willing to work to change the policies that violate rights. FIRE recognizes the importance of preventing rights violations before they happen and educating students so that they can in turn educate others. FIRE’s ultimate goal is to change the campus culture so that robust student rights are the norm rather than the exception on campus. Education plays a crucial role in achieving this goaland it is a tool that FIRE is well equipped to provide.