Nearly 50 students from across the country traveled to Los Angeles on Saturday for FIRE’s West Coast Regional Conference, a one-day event held at University of California, Los Angeles. At the conference, students learned how to identify censorship on campus, networked and collaborated with their peers, and received tools and tips necessary for protecting and defending their right to free expression.
FIRE Staff Attorney Brynne Madway kicked off the conference with a session aimed at helping students tackle common arguments used to stifle freedom of expression. Later, conference attendees learned from Senior Program Officer and Investigative Reporter Adam Steinbaugh, who explored the contours of a handful of FIRE’s most interesting cases.
After a networking lunch on the terrace of the Fowler Museum, students heard from the conference’s keynote speaker, Ken White, former federal prosecutor, current partner at Brown White & Osborn LLP in Los Angeles, and writer for the popular blog Popehat.
During his keynote address, Ken offered students advice for becoming effective free speech advocates and tips to win the battle for hearts and minds on campus:
So I had a blast today speaking to @TheFIREorg’s West Coast conference. Inspired by a bunch of enthusiastic young people passionate about free speech. I talked about how to become an effective free speech advocate. /1
— LoomingCrisisHat (@Popehat) April 29, 2018
Later, Azhar Majeed, FIRE’s Vice President of Policy Reform, gave a general overview of restrictive speech codes on college campuses, and offered students advice on the best ways to combat them.
Hamza Raja, a junior at Truman State University, remarked: “It was an electrifying expedition to learn about my free speech rights and acquire the knowledge I needed from a team of well-versed scholars.” Raja added: “I can’t applaud FIRE enough for being such a motivating force and encouraging me to stand up for my free speech rights. After the West Coast Conference, I am inspired to stand up to amend the speech code at my campus and change it from being absurdly vague.”
To close out the conference, attendees collaborated with Theresa Glinski and Luke Ripp from FIRE’s Campus Outreach team during a session highlighting FIRE’s resources and providing an overview of best practices for taking action on campus. Students voiced particular interest in FIRE’s activism toolkits and funding opportunities to host campus debates.
Heidi Artigue, a junior at Pomona College shared: “The conference was an excellent opportunity to see how many different kinds of people value free expression on their campuses. The conference is also a great chance to learn about bringing activism to my campus and learn about the issues of free speech on campus.”
“I really appreciated how the conference’s speakers and students respected and encouraged my right to speak freely and unrepressed, because it’s a foreign concept on my campus,” added Leigh Salomon, junior at Brandeis University. “In less than a day, FIRE provided us more than just a look at the parameters of First Amendment law. We collaborated. We laughed. We engaged the issues and shared strategies using a fundamental tool from free speech jurisprudence: the free exchange of ideas. I can’t wait to see what we accomplish together.”
FIRE thanks the students and guests in attendance for this fantastic event. Remember, anyone can join the FIRE Student Network and access resources like our Guides to Student Rights on Campus, speech code information, guest speakers, activism tips, and much more.