As the New Year swiftly approaches, I find myself reflecting on the time that I have spent with FIRE so far. I have been working with FIRE as an Intern Program Assistant through Drexel University’s co-op program. This program allows students to gain real workplace experience for six months at an organization of their choice, followed by six months of typical course work. I have learned so much in the past four months here, and find it inspiring to work with people so truly dedicated to the mission of their organization.
Too often, students enter college unaware of the First Amendment rights to which they are entitled on campus. I used to be one of those students, but working at FIRE has helped me understand my rights as a college student at a private university, as well as what I can do if I think that those rights are being abused.
Everyday I speak with donors, parents, students, and faculty about free speech issues on the phone. All of these calls end with the same two words: thank you! They want to thank FIRE for standing by them and helping them fight to preserve their own rights, as well as the rights of others finding themselves in similar situations. FIRE has not only made an impact on academia, but it has also had a more personal impact on me.
FIRE’s incessant free speech battle against Bucknell University has been of particular interest to me. Bucknell University has been on Red Alert status for two years in a row because of its gross disregard for the free speech rights of the Bucknell University Conservatives Club (BUCC). In March of 2009, Bucknell shut down BUCC’s protest of President Obama’s stimulus plan, and then in April, Bucknell’s Associate Dean of Students Gerald W. Commerford told students that they were not allowed to continue their affirmative action bake sale because the prices differed from what they had stated on their event application. The blatant abuse of student rights at Bucknell has made me disappointed in the administration, as well as thankful that I’m not going there. These cases caught my attention because Bucknell was my top college choice for a long time, but now I could not be happier that I do not attend a university that so arbitrarily exerts its power over its students.
Cases like these are not unique to Bucknell, and serve as continual reminders of the importance of FIRE in preserving the free marketplace of ideas at our nation’s colleges and universities. My experience at FIRE has only furthered my desire to create change on my own campus. Drexel University currently holds a yellow light rating, but I am hopeful that with some open discussion among students, faculty, administrators, and FIRE staff, I will be able to transform Drexel into a university that truly respects free speech.
I am very proud to work for FIRE and to support such a great cause. As I reflect back upon my experiences here, I also look forward to all of the new lessons that FIRE will teach me in the final months of my internship.