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FIRE’s Campus Scholars are making college campuses more free speech-friendly

FIRE Campus Scholars fall 2023 group shot - Front row left to right: Sahar Tartak, Kiran Subramanian, Mia Antonacci Back row left to right: Malcolm Mahoney, Aidan Buehler, Sami Al-Asady

FIRE's incoming class of campus scholars. Front row left to right: Sahar Tartak, Kiran Subramanian, Mia Antonacci. Back row left to right: Malcolm Mahoney, Aidan Buehler, Sami Al-Asady

FIRE Campus Scholars have one goal: Improve the speech climate at their school. This semester, they have their work cut out for them, as almost every member of the fall 2023 cohort attends a school that ranks relatively low in FIRE’s latest College Free Speech Rankings.

The Campus Scholars program brings together some of the best and brightest FIRE Student Network members to champion free speech at their schools. Over the course of a semester and in collaboration with FIRE, the scholars pursue creative projects to advance FIRE’s mission on their campuses.

Free speech advocacy is greatly needed at these institutions, and we’re optimistic that our Campus Scholars will help their schools climb in our rankings next year. We received an incredible amount of interest in the program this year, and we are excited to introduce this semester’s students.

Mia Antonacci, University of Pennsylvania (ranked 247 out of 248)

Mia believes that a person’s intelligence is determined by how much they hear others out. She is aiming to capture a wider range of opinions about free speech from Penn’s student body by conducting informal street interviews and then giving students the opportunity to have intellectually stimulating conversations at a civil dialogue dinner.

Ulvi Gitaliyev, Berea College (ranked 161)

Ulvi is passionate about productive discourse and helping others see its necessity. He will host biweekly discussion groups to encourage people to take a stroll through the marketplace of ideas, no matter how controversial. Ulvi’s goal is to encourage students to engage with each other’s ideas and foster an environment that honors respectful discussion and debate.

Sahar Tartak, Yale University (ranked 234)

Sahar sees that Yale needs a vibrant, viewpoint-diverse paper. As a steadfast advocate for free speech, she is relaunching the Yale Free Press, an independent, pro-free speech campus paper that will recruit freethinking writers to question the prevailing campus orthodoxy.

Malcolm Mahoney, Dartmouth University (ranked 240)

Malcolm prefers boldness over subtlety, and his project reflects that. He will construct an interactive installation in the middle of Dartmouth’s campus green highlighting how freedom of speech has led to important civil rights achievements. Malcolm will also host a panel discussion with school administrators to discuss the necessity of preserving freedom of speech on campus.

Sami Al-Asady, Arizona State University (ranked 77)

Sami, a FIRE essay contest winner and scholarship recipient, is working with the Arizona State University honors college to plan and host an event that promotes civil discourse and restores ASU’s reputation as a pro-free speech institution. He aims to highlight the importance of free speech and its role in collective learning and academic freedom.

Aidan Buehler, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (ranked 174)

Aidan is a social scientist with a hypothesis. Working closely with FIRE’s research team, he is analyzing data we’ve collected over the years on free speech issues on college campuses. Aidan’s hypothesis is that major “free speech shocks” (e.g., a prominent speaker event being disrupted, a dean being fired) cause increased rates of self-censorship among students.

Kiran Subramanian, Rutgers University (ranked 120)

Kiran knows Rutgers can do better on free speech — and that he can help. He will work to cultivate an environment of free speech and open discourse on campus by creating “man on the street”-style video content and sharing it with the campus community through various social media platforms.

Through the efforts of our Campus Scholars, we’re looking forward to seeing each campus become more free speech-friendly.

Should you or someone you know be a FIRE Campus Scholar? Learn more here.

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