FIRE’s 2018 Summer Conference prepares students for another year of defending free speech on campus

By July 24, 2018

Last weekend, more than 100 students from across the country and the ideological spectrum joined forces in Philadelphia at the FIRE Student Network Summer Conference — a challenging and exciting weekend of workshops, networking, and collaboration with the nation’s top campus free speech advocates.

Set at the National Constitution Center, students spent a jam-packed three days learning about their free speech and due process rights on campus.

Ira Glasser, former executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, kicked off the conference on Friday evening with a rousing speech about his history fighting for civil liberties with the ACLU and the continued need for principled free speech advocacy.

Saturday morning’s sessions began with “Free Expression 101: Speech on Campus” by FIRE Senior Vice President of Legal and Public Advocacy Will Creeley. It was followed by a presentation on due process by FIRE Senior Program Manager for Legal and Public Advocacy Susan Kruth.

FIRE Senior Vice President of Legal and Public Advocacy Will Creeley addresses FIRE Summer Conference attendees.

Next, staff and conference attendees participated in a mock campus disciplinary hearing. FIRE staff were assisted by members of the FIRE’s Student Defenders program in presenting examples of common due process violations that happen throughout campus proceedings, and discussing ways to ensure students receive a fair hearing.

Midday Saturday, attendees broke off into one of three different conference track groups — FIRE 101, Due Process, or Student Journalism and Activism — based on their stated interests.

Depending on which track they chose, students then attended interactive sessions about everything from “Answering Common Objections [to Free Speech]” with Director of Litigation Marieke Tuthill Beck-Coon, to “How to Get Published” with Communications Manager Daniel Burnett, and “Decoding Speech Codes” with Azhar Majeed and Laura Beltz of FIRE’s policy reform team.

Saturday closed out with a keynote by Jacob Mchangama, the founder and director of Danish think tank Justitia and host of the podcast Clear and Present Danger: A History of Free Speech. Over dinner, Jacob skillfully debunked three common myths about free speech, namely, that free speech protects the powerful, that free speech hurts the vulnerable and minorities, and that free speech is violence.

FIRE’s staff works tirelessly to ensure that every student who attends our summer conference leaves with a robust understanding of their rights — and the confidence, tools, and resources to assert and defend them on campus.

For many students, like Harvard University junior Victor Agbafe, the conference was a resounding success.

Students listen to a presentation at FIRE’s 2018 Summer Conference.

“This conference has been one of the most consequential experiences of my college career,” Agbafe said. “My experience has solidified the importance of free speech to a truly expansive, intellectual human experience, and true protection of the rights of all to express their ideas and protect the marginalized.”

“Coming to this conference has given me a new perspective as to the magnitude of the free speech crisis in education in this country, and abroad,” said Paige Lambermont, who attends American University. “Fortunately, it has also equipped me with new knowledge and skills with which to confront the problem.”

Emily Briscoe of Rutgers University called the conference “a clear, resounding reminder of the importance of the First Amendment, held fittingly where the Bill of Rights was drafted.”

“The FIRE conference has left me inspired and with the ability to inspire others.”

FIRE would like to thank everyone involved in the FIRE Student Network Summer Conference for another fantastic event! If you’d like to join students from across the country in defending civil liberties on America’s campuses, check out the FIRE Student Network and become a member today.