FIRE and First Amendment Watch launch campus free speech orientation program

March 24, 2020

Today, FIRE and New York University’s First Amendment Watch are proud to launch a freshman orientation program aimed at teaching incoming college students about their free speech rights on campus. 

It is critically important to equip incoming students with knowledge of the First Amendment and how to exercise their own rights without violating the rights of others. Our orientation program does just that.

Together, FIRE and FAW have developed a series of modules for universities to utilize during freshman orientation, first-year seminars, and other campus programming to teach new college students about their rights and about common free speech issues they may encounter during their time in school. Our hope is that public and private universities will adapt the lessons most relevant and applicable to their institutions to create a program tailored to their specific campus culture. 

The move from high school to college, which exposes students to many new and controversial ideas and viewpoints, can be challenging for students. It is critically important to equip incoming students with knowledge of the First Amendment and how to exercise their own rights without violating the rights of others. Our orientation program does just that. 

The first batch of modules covers six core topics: 

Each module lasts between 15 and 20 minutes and contains prepared remarks on the topic at hand, as well as a mix of additional resources, such as videos from national figures like President Barack Obama and Nadine Strossen, the former president of the ACLU; discussion questions; and skits for orientation leaders to perform — giving life to what can sometimes be difficult conversations. 

For example, our academic freedom lesson contains sample questions for a faculty-led panel discussion, while the history of student protests module suggests letting students break into small groups to talk about their own experiences with protest and other expressive activity. Involving student leaders and faculty members in presenting these materials is a great way to show how freedom of expression affects many aspects of campus life and to get the whole university community passionate about their rights. 

If you are an administrator in the field of student affairs or the first-year experience and are interested in adopting the orientation program or if you are a student or faculty member looking to promote the use of our materials on campus feel free to reach out to us at orientation@thefire.org. FIRE and FAW are more than happy to talk through how to best implement this program on your campus!