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Elizabeth City State University earns ‘green light’ rating for its protection of free expression

  • FIRE’s top rating is held by just 58 institutions nationwide
  • ECSU revised three policies to align with the First Amendment 

ELIZABETH CITY, N.C., Oct. 27, 2021 — A North Carolina public university has revised its policies on free expression to earn the top free speech rating from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. 

Elizabeth City State University revised three of its policies to be in accordance with the First Amendment. 

“Free speech and free expression are integral to the university experience and important to the growth of our students,” said ECSU Chancellor Karrie Dixon. “We commend FIRE for their work maintaining the integrity of these basic tenets of individual rights and are pleased to be ranked among those institutions that uphold the principles of individual liberty.”

FIRE rates more than 475 institutions nationwide to determine whether their policies restrict student speech that is protected by the First Amendment. Almost 90% of colleges maintain policies that restrict or chill protected expression.

ECSU joins 13 other North Carolina institutions that hold green light ratings. North Carolina has the highest number of green light schools of any state, as there are just 58 green light recipients nationwide. ECSU is the fifth historically black college to earn a green light rating from FIRE.

“ECSU has demonstrated a high respect for its students’ rights,” said Laura Beltz, FIRE policy reform director. “For that reason, we’re excited to award them a green light rating, and we hope that other North Carolina institutions will follow suit.”

Public universities like ECSU are legally bound by the First Amendment to protect student free speech rights, while private institutions are often bound by promises of free speech found in their official policies.

ECSU received a green light after updating its Clubs and Organizations Policy and an internet usage policy, and repealing a policy that banned “offensive” flyers advertising student events.

Several North Carolina schools still have problematic policies on the books. Davidson College, the University of North Carolina Asheville, Winston-Salem State University, North Carolina A&T State University, and Wake Forest University each earn FIRE’s “yellow light” rating, which denotes policies that, by virtue of their vague wording, could too easily be used to restrict protected expression. North Carolina is one of only 16 states without any institution earning FIRE’s lowest, red light rating, denoting that an institution has at least one red light policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech. 


Students, parents, alumni, and members of the public interested in learning more about the state of free speech on college campuses around the country are encouraged to check out FIRE’s Spotlight on Speech Codes 2021 report. The next report is slated for release this winter and will reflect ECSU’s green light status.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending and sustaining the individual rights of students and faculty members at America’s colleges and universities. These rights include freedom of speech, freedom of association, due process, legal equality, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience — the essential qualities of liberty.


Katie Kortepeter, Media Relations Associate, FIRE: 215-717-3473;

Robert Kelly-Goss, Director of External Group Relations, Elizabeth City State University: 252-619-3305;

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