Robert Smith is a rising senior at Dartmouth College. A government major with minors in music and anthropology, he spent the past three months interning on Capitol Hill in the office of Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick [PA-08]. On campus, Robert serves as vice president of the College Republicans and president of Vita Clamantis, Dartmouth’s pro-life club. He is the business manager and an editor for the Dartmouth Apologia, a scholarly journal of Christian thought. Robert has also acted in several shows with his college theater department, most recently performing in David Ives’s The Liar. He is active with Aquinas House, Dartmouth’s Catholic student center, where he serves as class outreach chair and Deputy Grand Knight of the Dartmouth Knights of Columbus.
On why he decided to intern with FIRE, Robert writes:
I am privileged to attend an institution that has received FIRE’s esteemed "green light" speech code rating, which indicates that a school protects academic freedom and First Amendment rights. At Dartmouth, I have become convinced that such freedoms are absolutely essential for the social and intellectual health of a university. Students who never have their opinions challenged will never fully understand why they hold the beliefs they do. They will be unprepared for a democratic society that relies on rational debate. A college with open discourse, on the other hand, leads students to reevaluate their most hardened prejudices. It challenges them to justify even basic assumptions.
Despite its merits, Dartmouth is not immune from the pernicious culture of political correctness that infects so many of our universities today. I have long been aware of FIRE’s work on behalf of the First Amendment, but I became personally acquainted with the organization in the spring of 2012 when it publicized an incident involving Vita Clamantis. As president of Vita, I had organized a public flag display to illustrate the number of abortions that have occurred in the United States since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. True to its reputation, the Council on Student Organizations at Dartmouth had graciously agreed to sponsor our display, citing the school’s previous support for other forms of political expression. Nevertheless, our quiet demonstration was met with hostile opposition on campus. I watched as students brazenly vandalized our display, citing their own First Amendment rights. My faith in the university as an oasis for fruitful dialogue was fundamentally shaken when a sedan sporting a "coexist" bumper sticker drove over the flags in the mid-afternoon.
I worry for Dartmouth’s future because I recognize that liberty is a fragile thing. The defenders of free speech must remain vigilant, especially when a school is lauded as a bastion of academic freedom. With FIRE’s help, however, I can ensure that my college will continue to recall that enduring truth—free speech means little unless we are willing to protect the speech of those with whom we disagree. I look forward to defending the rights of students and faculty nationwide while interning at the FIRE office this summer.
Welcome, Robert! To lend your support to FIRE’s summer internship program, visit thefire.org/get-involved/student-network/summer-internship-program.