Luke Wachob is a rising senior at James Madison University, majoring in Public Policy and Administration with a Mathematics minor. He serves as President of Madison Liberty, a student advocacy group at JMU that promotes individual liberty in academia and society. Luke is also a columnist for The Breeze, JMU’s student newspaper, where he writes about politics, individual rights, and university life.
On why he decided to intern with FIRE this summer, Luke writes:
I don’t think I’ve ever met a person who said he or she was opposed to freedom of speech. It’s enshrined in the 1st Amendment of the Constitution, and fundamental to an understanding of American political culture. When I told a friend where I’d be working this summer, he responded, "so your job is to be, like, super American?"
His comment exemplifies the extent to which we take freedom of expression for granted. Yet our rights are not nearly as well protected as we imagine. I was introduced to FIRE during my first semester at college after learning from the student newspaper that my university was implementing a policy to punish students for obscene "conduct or expression" "regardless to proximity to campus."
The university claimed it was never their intention to censor protected speech with the policy, but the intentions of administrators can change on a whim, and oftentimes universities and students are ignorant of what is or isn’t protected speech. It isn’t hard to imagine the policy being used to punish students for Facebook posts or commentary critical of the university’s administrators or activities. In fact, those things do happen on college campuses. Thanks to the student newspaper, FIRE, and a group of concerned students and faculty, the policy at my school was removed before anyone was harmed by it. Not every campus is so lucky, and not every infringement on our rights is so obvious.
After that policy brought attention to the university’s speech code, FIRE, Madison Liberty, and JMU worked together to get three additional policies amended in order to fully protect Constitutional expression on campus. The process taught me that only organized pressure, public attention, and persistence can bring to realization the freedom of expression that Americans demand of their society. Public hunger for free speech is enormous, but awareness about how speech is restricted and chilled on campuses is lacking. I hope to help students, professors, and citizens better learn their rights and the rights of those around them, to help elevate the quality and increase the quantity of public discourse across the country. Of all places in society, the university should be brave enough to discuss any issue openly. Most of them promise that. I’m here to hold them to it.
Welcome Luke! To support FIRE’s internship program, visit thefire.org/interns.