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FIRE’s 2019 Summer Conference empowers students to make change on campus

Last weekend, 124 students attended the 2019 FIRE Student Network Summer Conference in Philadelphia — our largest conference yet! With a successful weekend behind us, we are eager for students to take what they learned and bring it back to their campuses this fall. 

Set at the National Constitution Center, students chose from three areas of focus relating to individual rights depending on their interests and their previous knowledge of constitutional rights.  

Harvard Law professor Randall Kennedy delivering his keynote address.

Harvard Law professor Randall Kennedy delivered the keynote address on Friday evening and discussed three key points essential to free speech. Professor Kennedy’s speech covered how to best conduct oneself in the face of disagreement, how racial justice overlaps with freedom of expression, and how free speech can be used in an era of extreme political ideologies.

Saturday morning kicked off with a presentation from Will Creeley, FIRE’s Senior Vice President of Legal and Public Advocacy, who discussed the fundamentals of free speech on college campuses and provided the overarching themes for the conference weekend. 

Will’s presentation was followed by an interactive mock disciplinary hearing by FIRE’s summer interns and a due process overview by Susan Kruth, Senior Program Manager for Legal and Public Advocacy. After morning sessions, attendees split up based on their track selection: “Free Speech 101,” “Due Process,” and “Digging Deeper into FIRE Issues.” 

Saturday evening concluded with an engaging keynote address presented by New York Law School professor Nadine Strossen at The Liberty View venue of the Independence Visitor Center. 

Her four-point presentation focused on the push for “hate speech” legislation and its ineffectiveness in countries where it had been enacted. Professor Strossen raised concerns that “hate speech” restrictions fail to address the root of the problems.

New York Law School professor and former president of the ACLU, Nadine Strossen, addressing the crowd.

The conference wrapped up Sunday morning with a Q&A panel led by our FIRE staff, as well as an interactive presentation from our summer interns on free speech empowerment. During their presentation, the interns had students engage in one-on-one conversations about common issues that threaten First Amendment rights on their campuses. 

Overall, FIRE staff planned a jam-packed weekend for students to guarantee they would get a variety of presentations, perspectives, and overall discussion with other students from around the country and — critically — across the ideological spectrum.

“I would 100% recommend [students] come to the conference … it empowers you to voice your opinion, especially if you feel like you are someone who self-censors on campus. Come to this conference and understand that you have a right to speak up in what you believe in,” said Snipta Mallick, a student at the University of Texas at Dallas.

FIRE would like to thank everyone involved in the FIRE Student Network Summer Conference for another wonderful event! If you missed the event, or want to learn more about our upcoming student conferences, check out the FIRE Student Network and join students from across the country in defending civil liberties on America’s college campuses.

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