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FIRE welcomes inaugural class of Campus Scholars!

Group of college students standing in FIRE headquarters


FIRE's inaugural class of Campus Scholars (from left to right): Rohan Krishnan, Lillian Tara, Melanie Nolan, Ari Wagen, and Will Harris.

This fall, FIRE welcomed its inaugural class of Campus Scholars to its Philadelphia headquarters for a weekend-long training program. Through conversations with FIRE’s staff members and peer-feedback sessions on free speech-related projects, student advocates were empowered to fight for free speech back on their home campuses. 

The FIRE Campus Scholars Program is a new initiative of the FIRE Student Network that funds free speech-centered project proposals. Once selected, Scholars complete a semester-long, remote opportunity consisting of working on their project and completing tasks for FIRE.

William Harris, a junior at Haverford College and 2022 FIRE summer intern, is using the opportunity offered by the program to build an op-ed website to host essays written by his peers, centered on moments in their own lives when they realized free speech was vital. 

“I envision a website with stories from professors and students who have experienced a culture of self-censorship,” Harris said. “Working off the model of Richard Crossman’s ‘The God That Failed,’ I hope that such stories, or ‘Kronstadt moments,’ will help reframe the narrative surrounding free speech on campus.” 

Former FIRE intern Rohan Krishnan is also working to bring personal narratives about free speech to his campus, but in audio format. The Yale University junior hopes to create a podcast sharing the stories of international Yale staff, faculty, and students who will speak about “international free speech issues in education and their experiences in countries that have much looser protections for human rights such as free speech and due process.”

Free Speech Weekend

To kick off the weekend, the Campus Scholars met with FIRE Legal Director Will Creeley, Executive Vice President Nico Perrino, Director of Policy Reform Laura Beltz, and Vice President of Student Outreach Molly Nocheck. The variety of presentations from FIRE staff included information on producing approachable branding, collaborating with campus administrators, and informing peers about student rights.

Choosing to promote unity over division, the University of Virginia senior plans to host a dinner, panel, and roundtable event.

“I was so grateful to learn about the importance of consistency in my branding as my project is still in its infancy, and this training is going to be so valuable moving forward,” said Melanie Nolan, a senior at Skidmore College and 2022 FIRE summer intern. Nolan’s project, an art installation entitled “The Solidarity Project: the Writing on the Wall,” explores “the principles of solidarity within free expression. The piece invites members of the community to amplify other’s voices, testing their commitment and the ramifications of anti-censorship.”

Some of the most valuable contributions, however, came from the peer feedback sessions. Beginning on Saturday morning, scholars were invited to reflect on how they preferred to receive feedback and on what kinds of critique would best help them succeed in their projects. True to FIRE’s principles of healthy dialogue, the Campus Scholars provided excellent feedback to their peers. By the end of the training weekend on Sunday morning, each Scholar left with a detailed timeline of the semester, prepared to promote free expression on their campus — an increasingly difficult task in today’s climate.

Unity over division

For Lillian Tara, this anti-free speech climate served as an incentive for her work. Choosing to promote unity over division, the University of Virginia senior plans to host a dinner, panel, and roundtable event “that explores the prerequisites for a healthy democracy and its inherent limitations … underlying the evening will be community guidelines and a standard of free speech, promoting open discourse.” Tara aims to bring together professors from across the political spectrum to speak on the political philosophies they hold most dear, and to invite them to engage in dialogue with one another over a meal. 

In a similar vein, Northeastern University senior Ari Wagen will host mini-conferences “centered around free speech and civil discourse. These events will explore our right to free speech, its origin and conception, its limits, and the state of free speech and civil discourse today both on and off campus.” 

Wagen plans for each weekend-long event to consist of a lecture, a discussion, and an off-campus outing (including treks on Boston’s Freedom Trail!) in order to meet students where they are in a divisive climate.

FIRE is extremely excited about our Fall 2022 class of Campus Scholars, and we look forward to seeing all that they accomplish on their campuses. Students can look forward to applying for the Spring 2023 class here, and can contact with any questions.

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