After his FIRE internship ended in the summer of 2007, Braum Katz left Philadelphia with a mission: to transform his school, The College of William & Mary, from a “red light” to a “green light” institution by reforming its unconstitutional campus policies. By rallying his fellow students and working in cooperation with the college administration, he succeeded, and William & Mary became a “green light” school in 2009.
When he addressed students at the 2010 Campus Freedom Network (CFN) Conference this summer, Braum shared a few insights from his successful campaign:
- Look at your school’s policies in FIRE’s Spotlight database to see which language is problematic.
- Evaluate the campus climate and think about your audience, both administrators and students. The revolutionary history of Williamsburg, Va., where William & Mary is located, set the tone for Braum’s campaign.
- Highlight the absurd results of overbroad codes. Braum pointed out that the blanket ban on anonymous speech at William & Mary would have prevented the distribution of Thomas Paine’s famous pamphlet “Common Sense.”
- Recruit student groups to support your effort. Braum secured bipartisan support with endorsements from both the College Republicans and Students for a Democratic Society.
- The student press is your ally. Journalists understand the imperative of free speech on campus, and campus newspapers will often publish guest op-eds and news stories about your reform campaign.
You can read more about Braum’s reform campaign in his case study on the CFN website. Braum’s efforts earned him a place in the CFN’s Prometheus Society, which honors our most engaged CFN members.
Virginia schools are now leading the nation in speech code reform, with William & Mary and the University of Virginia among the 13 “green light” schools that ensure free expression on campus. Braum’s story proves that even one determined student has the power to challenge speech codes and make a lasting difference at his or her school. CFN members, take note—you, too, are capable of leading reform on your campus, and FIRE is always here to help.