Sophia Mortensen is a rising junior at The College of William & Mary majoring in government with a minor in music. Sophia is also a 2012 recipient of the J. Stewart Dunn Civil Liberties Fellowship, awarded by William & Mary to help her pursue her work with FIRE. During the year, Sophia is an intern with AidData, an online database of foreign aid projects, and the treasurer of the William & Mary Anime Society.
On why she decided to intern at FIRE this summer, Sophia writes:
Colleges and universities in the U.S. hold a vital place in our democracy, not only as educators, but also as forums in which ideas are discussed and assumptions questioned. Or at least, that is the role they should play. Now the trend seems to have moved towards creating a community where people are "safe" and where they can believe that they have the right not to be offended. But in creating this kind of culture, colleges are teaching students that it is indecent for people to disagree, that it is morally wrong to hold an unpopular view.
I attended a very small, ideologically unified high school where many saw my social and political views as either misguided or immoral, so I can understand how this culture crushes healthy debate. After all, if someone is simply wrong, what is the point of having a discussion? While it was sometimes difficult being a lone voice of dissent, and being told by students and teachers alike that I was wrong, I do think I came out better for it. I learned how and when to debate. And I learned that good, intelligent people can come to different conclusions about the world and that this is okay. Always keeping this in mind, I think, is the key to a healthy public discourse.
Now, I am lucky enough to go to William & Mary, a "green light" school for free speech, and I have benefited enormously. I have run across people with a myriad of different viewpoints. Sometimes I agree. Sometimes I disagree. And yes, sometimes an opinion has angered me, but never would I have my school censor it. Unfortunately, few other students are so lucky. Taking steps to change this fact and ensure that basic freedoms of belief, conscience, and expression are respected is why I want to work with FIRE.
True, it may be easier to have the school to tell someone that they are wrong and to end the debate there. But it is also a wasted opportunity. I would rather confront the person and engage in a debate. Perhaps someone will be offended, and that is unfortunate. But no one has the right to be protected from having their feelings hurt. They do have the right to be protected from censorship, and that is a right I want to help defend.
Welcome, Sophia! To learn how you can support FIRE’s internship program, visit thefire.org/interns.