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FIRE West Coast Regional Conference 2017 prompts critical thinking, connection for students

More than 50 students from across the country traveled to Los Angeles for the first-ever FIRE West Coast Regional Conference on Saturday, a one-day event held at UCLA. At the conference, students learned about campus speech, networked and collaborated with their peers, and received tools and tips for protecting and defending their right to free expression.

FIRE President and CEO Greg Lukianoff kicked off the conference with a session on the history of FIRE and highlighted some of our cases.

After networking over a delicious lunch on the terrace of UCLA’s Fowler Museum, students heard from the conference’s keynote speaker, First Amendment scholar and UCLA School of Law professor Eugene Volokh.

“It’s really important to be able to articulate your message in a way that people can receive it. That’s just as important as having a strong message,” said Michael Lehavi, a sophomore at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, reiterating what he learned from Volokh’s keynote address. “I need to continue to be careful about the way that I phrase my arguments, particularly in support of free speech.”

Grace O’Toole, a sophomore at the University of California, Berkeley, said the talk opened her eyes to free speech issues she might not have previously noticed.

“It was really interesting to see scholarly critiques of some things that I would see on campus normally and not really think of as ‘Oh, that’s maybe a free speech infringement,’” she said.  

At the end of his address, Volokh offered students advice on what to do if they encounter censorship on campus:

Following the address were sessions and roundtables led by FIRE staff, which explored issues related to bias response teams on campus and how FIRE approaches public awareness campaigns. In addition, students participated in exercises where they responded to hypothetical scenarios describing instances where free speech was threatened on campus. Working in groups, the students critically evaluated arguments from different perspectives and worked together to formulate a response to each situation.

While education on free speech issues on campus was at the heart of the conference, the connections made and conversations had between students was the highlight for some:  

“It was really valuable to get to hear the speakers talk about their expertise in their field and about what they’re doing in their work,” O’Toole said. “But it was equally valuable to be able to talk to my fellow students from different universities, and be able to connect with them, and get their perspective on things, and see what’s happening outside of the bubble that is my university and my experience.”

FIRE thanks the students and guests in attendance for this fantastic event. Remember, anyone can join the FIRE Student Network and access resources like our Guides to Student Rights on Campus, speech code information, guest speakers, activism tips, and much more.

Stay tuned for an announcement about our FIRE Student Network Conference, which will take place this summer in Philadelphia!

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