Introducing FIRE Summer Intern Aaron Coven

June 19, 2013

Aaron Coven is a rising sophomore transferring to Cornell University beginning in the fall of 2013. He will be majoring in industrial and labor relations and hopes to declare a minor next fall. He attended Emory University during his freshman year, where he helped organize the annual TEDxEmory event. Aaron aims to combine his interests in sports, sustainability, and civil liberties in his future career. Discussing his decision to join FIRE’s internship program, Aaron writes: After going on service-learning trips to the Lower Ninth Ward in the summers of 2010 and 2011 with New York to New Orleans (NY2NO), I developed an unwavering interest in civil liberties. However, it was during my first year in college that I became specifically interested in the First Amendment. Emory University was forced to contend with a great deal of public embarrassment during my freshman year. From the SAT score-misreporting scandal to President James Wagner’s controversial comments regarding the Three-Fifths Compromise in Emory Magazine to the misinterpreted parody of the Dooley Show, it became clear to me that freedom of speech cannot always be taken for granted. This liberty is under attack even in the setting of higher education, where debate and discussion are meant to be fostered rather than shunned.My growing fascination with the seemingly never-ending threats to free speech in our nation’s colleges and universities led me to look for internships with an organization dedicated to defending First Amendment rights. After doing some online research, I came across FIRE’s website and I was pleased to find internship openings for the summer of 2013. I submitted my application, and I happened to mention this to my freshman dorm’s building manager, who said something along the lines of the following: "Oh, FIRE. I’m familiar with them. They’re a pretty conservative organization—they’re basically on the opposite end of the political spectrum in comparison to the ACLU." This struck me as somewhat strange—shouldn’t an organization dedicated to defending free speech avoid incorporating a political agenda? Shouldn’t such an organization advocate for all speech, without taking into account the viewpoints expressed? Vexed by this characterization, I did some more research and I found out that I was correct: FIRE’s sole goal is defending the free speech rights of those studying and teaching in our nation’s colleges and universities, without any bias. Furthermore, FIRE is a nonpartisan organization, and while it may be true that conservatives’ opinions need more defending in a largely left-leaning higher education system, FIRE is committed to protecting students and professors regardless of viewpoint.Feeling even more interested in interning with FIRE, I successfully interviewed and accepted an internship for the summer of 2013. I look forward to the substantive and meaningful work that the internship promises, as well as the educational aspect of the internship. As I prepare to transfer to Cornell University to complete the rest of my undergraduate education, I hope to come away from this summer with not only a greater understanding of the philosophical, moral, and political arguments for free speech, but also the skills to effectively advocate for these rights on campus. Welcome, Aaron! For more on how to support FIRE’s internship program, visit