February 2012: Austin Ford

Austin FordAustin is a 21-year-old student at UCLA, a member of the Bruin Democrats, a representative in UCLA’s student government, a member of the Kappa Sigma fraternity, and a member of the Army ROTC. He is a senior majoring in Southeast Asian Studies with a minor in Military Science. Growing up in Coppell, Texas, Austin first heard about FIRE when he was in high school on a blog he was following about the Obama campaign,  but he has always been interested in ensuring that individuals know their rights.

“I wanted to work to protect free speech and due process rights in college,” Austin notes. “There was a lot of corruption in the DFW [Dallas-Fort Worth] suburbs I lived around, and I wanted to make sure the lay person was able to protect him or herself in case they were faced with corrupt practices or unscrupulous officials.”

Austin has done just that during his time at UCLA, most notably manning a table with materials for the schools “Know Your Rights” week. “The event is a week of awareness and action to try to inform the campus community of their rights and how to advocate for themselves if their rights are threatened,” he said. “We are having two attorneys speak at UCLA, as well as passing out information, flyers, and items from FIRE and the ACLU.” In the future, Austin and his group plan on looking into UCLA’s speech codes after some recent changes in policy.

“There were many changes made to the student conduct code that, in my opinion, took away necessary due process rights and empowered university-level prosecutions at the expense of the students, all under the guise of being ‘non-adversarial,’” Austin says. “UCLA used to have one of the best and most fair student conduct code proceedings possible, but much of that got changed about 7 months ago.”

Austin’s advice for other students looking to promote student rights on their campuses is to seek collaboration with other student groups—even those with whom you may not typically collaborate. “There is a narrative being promoted that the battle is between the conservative minority of students versus the ‘liberal establishment,’” he explains. “This couldn’t be farther from the truth—far more often the conflict is between unaccountable administrators versus the students, workers, and alumni as a whole. Do not be shy about approaching student and non-profit organizations on the left as well as the right.”