Introducing FIRE’s summer interns: Part 2

June 30, 2022

It’s been about a month since FIRE’s summer undergraduate interns started working with us. In celebration of them and their efforts, we would like to share a little bit about each intern in a two-blog series. Please enjoy today’s post about five of our ten fantastic interns. Be sure to check out yesterday’s post to read about the other five interns!

Responses have been edited for clarity and length. 


Abby Varricchio

Abby is a rising senior at the College of William and Mary, majoring in government and history. 

What inspired your passion for FIRE’s issues?

My passion and interest in the First Amendment dates back to my eighth grade civics class with one of my favorite teachers, Mr. Brown. I was inspired by the bravery of students, such as Mary Beth Tinker, and other historic actors, especially those from the 20th century civil rights movement. It struck me how their actions, which lead to monumental progress, would have been impossible without the First Amendment. I wanted to know everything and anything I could about it. It made me proud to be an American. 

I hope to take away more strategies regarding how to be a stronger and more effective free speech advocate on my campus.

When I arrived at the College of William & Mary, I noticed confusion among my peers about how the First Amendment functioned on a public campus and about how to cultivate a culture of free speech as students. Often, students inappropriately called on the university administration to take action during controversies. These observations and attitudes on campus came to a breaking point during dialogue about abortion. Confusion about how the public chalkboard functioned and the appropriateness of the speech’s content perforated both digital and in-person conversations for weeks; however, little to no clarity came from these conversations. This is when I realized I needed to act. 

What do you hope to learn from FIRE’s internship?

I hope to take away more strategies regarding how to be a stronger and more effective free speech advocate on my campus. The opportunity to connect with students from around the country and free speech scholars in this manner is a once-in-a lifetime opportunity. By connecting with people from diverse backgrounds, I hope I can learn how to reach more people.  

Libby Snowden

Libby is a rising junior at Yale University, majoring in chemistry.

What inspired your passion for FIRE’s issues?

I discovered my passion for free speech and open discourse when I got to college and found the Buckley Program, an organization devoted to promoting free speech and intellectual diversity at Yale. Through my involvement in the program, I was able to engage in open, serious discussion about politics in ways that I couldn’t in almost any other part of campus. The contrast between my openness in Buckley events and my timidness in my own dorm room made me realize how much we take free speech for granted. While we have pockets of truly open discourse, I feel that Yale lacks a campus-wide free speech culture. I’m confident my time at FIRE will help me develop tools to cultivate a stronger, broader free speech culture upon returning in the fall.

While we have pockets of truly open discourse, I feel that Yale lacks a campus-wide free speech culture.

Which FIRE intern project are you most excited to work on this summer?

I’m excited to work on FIRE’s curriculum development projects. We’ve already had a chance to work on those projects, and they’ve been fun opportunities to learn from the other interns. We’ve discussed experiences on our campuses, our opinions on contentious topics, and ways we see FIRE’s mission playing out in new spaces in higher education, and now with the expansion, in the larger society. I’m also looking forward to learning more about Campus Rights Advocacy and hopefully getting projects from them!

Karly Shepherd

Karly is a rising sophomore at Baylor University. She is a University Scholar with concentrations in English, political science, and philosophy.

I’m particularly excited to contribute to the advancement of “Let’s Talk,” FIRE’s initiative promoting civil discourse.

What do you hope to learn from FIRE’s internship?

I’m hopeful that the FIRE internship will equip me — as both a student and a citizen — to better facilitate civil discourse and perpetuate civil liberty. I’m eager to witness authentic non-partisanship in FIRE’s office and outreach, and better understand what it means to be an agent of constitutional justice as a product of such exposure. I look forward to understanding the ways in which threats to free speech and expression extend beyond my personal experiences, and enthusiastically expect that my perspectives will expand in correlation with my time at FIRE. I’m also beyond excited to be surrounded by such an incredibly intelligent and capable team of interns and staff; I hope more than anything that some of their expertise will rub off on me.

Which FIRE intern project are you most excited to work on this summer?

I’m particularly excited to contribute to the advancement of “Let’s Talk,” FIRE’s initiative promoting civil discourse. The principles of democratic debate and civil conversation have long characterized my extracurricular involvements, campus presence, and relational outlooks. I find FIRE’s efforts to promote healthy, rigorous, and productive conversation to be particularly commendable and would love to lend to growth in the broader ability to speak constructively and considerately about contentious issues.

Bobby Ramkissoon

Bobby is a rising senior at the College of Wooster, majoring in political science and philosophy. 

As someone who had the pleasure of attending the conference last year, I look forward to the opportunity to cultivate an equally enjoyable experience for this year’s attendees!

What inspired your passion for FIRE’s issues?

My passion for FIRE’s issues was first sparked in 8th grade through my participation in the “We The People Competition” — where middle and high school students present and prepare statements before a panel of judges acting as a congressional committee. I happened to be assigned to the team whose task it was to prepare a statement on issues related to the First Amendment. As many years have passed since graduating from middle school, it is unclear as to precisely what it was about the First Amendment that I found to be so intriguing. But I guess that it likely had to do with the human stories that animated the case law — I crafted my own black armband (a la Tinker) which I wore over my school uniform for months (I guess middle school was my Vietnam). I even wrote in a letter to my future self that I wanted to be a First Amendment lawyer when I grew up. In high school, my passion for FIRE’s issues was further kindled as I became enamored with debate and encountered my fair share of censorship. However, it was in college that my passion for FIRE’s issues truly burned, whereupon I attended several FSN conferences, and founded a Let’s Talk group and a Student Defenders organization on my campus! 

Which FIRE intern project are you most excited to work on this summer?

I am most excited to be working on the FSN Summer Conference! As someone who had the pleasure of attending the conference last year, I look forward to the opportunity to cultivate an equally enjoyable experience for this year’s attendees!

Dominic Coletti

Dominic is a rising senior at the University of Michigan, majoring in philosophy, politics, and economics. 

I hope to get a better understanding of how FIRE and its partners fight the rampant spread of free-speech restrictions on campuses like mine

What inspired your passion for FIRE’s issues?

I knew about FIRE and was instilled with a passion for free speech as far back as middle school, but the mission of advancing individual rights in education got personal once I got to college. Once there, I learned firsthand the importance of due process, especially on a campus struggling through a series of sexual misconduct scandals and rife with student outcry. In addition to my passion for due process, I am actively involved in our student newspaper, The Michigan Daily, where I work during the year as the Managing News Editor and have developed a passion for both improving the media landscape of Washtenaw County and protecting free speech not just for our staff, who benefit from fairly extensive protections, but for freedom of the press on campus and beyond.

What do you hope to learn from FIRE’s internship?

I hope to get a better understanding of how FIRE and its partners fight the rampant spread of free-speech restrictions on campuses like mine as well as how to continue working to protect campuses next year, after I graduate. Beyond the mission-focused work, I am excited to better understand the operational side of nonprofits like FIRE and to see the “behind-the-scenes” efforts that make it possible for FIRE to litigate, lobby, and equip student advocacy for speech and due process protections.