When James Madison University (JMU) became our newest green light school this week, perhaps no one was more thrilled about this important development than Kelly Jemison. Kelly, a recent JMU graduate, contacted FIRE in 2009 because she wanted to reform her school’s policies. She worked with administrators to make the necessary changes, but when she graduated there was still one yellow light policy on the books. Even though she was no longer on campus, Kelly made sure that her student group, Madison Liberty, kept up the effort. Their persistence paid off this week as JMU became just the 15th green light school in the country, joining The College of William & Mary and the University of Virginia as the third green light campus in Virginia.
Kelly spoke about her reform efforts to students at the CFN Conference this summer, and I asked her to share her thoughts now that JMU is finally free of speech codes. She writes:
When I got the news yesterday that the administration had changed the last of JMU’s yellow light policies and that we would now be FIRE’s 15th green light school, an incredible mix of joy and pride welled up in me. I knew I had played a pivotal role in getting two of the four policies changed and now the larger effort at JMU had at long last succeeded. I’m now ever more thankful to FIRE not only for assisting me in the process of changing the speech codes, but more importantly for helping me understand that this was something I could make a prominent difference in the lives of real students by doing.
The significance of Green Light status is not in the ranking itself but in what that rank communicates. What I and my fellow students have achieved on our campus is the protection of an individual’s inherent right to speak what is most precious to them: their own thoughts, beliefs and opinions. No other accomplishment of mine can even begin to compare to the personal fulfillment I feel in this momentous day.
I hope everyone realizes that this is in their power as well. It took us 2 years, 3 activists and countless emails and phone calls to do it, but our teamwork and persistence paid off. No matter what routes fail you in your efforts I would implore you to never give up on this fight. Few things are more imperative than this work or more worthwhile than being a part of it.
On behalf of FIRE, I want to thank Kelly, John Scott, Luke Wachob, and the other members of Madison Liberty for all their hard work, and congratulate them on achieving green light status. Thanks to their efforts, current and future JMU students will be free to express themselves on campus, and that is a legacy they should be proud of.
Kelly Jemison is the Program Manager for Students For Liberty.