Stetson University (SU) student Ben Lazarus regularly works to promote liberty at his school, but this past February, Ben organized an entire week dedicated to promoting free speech in particular! Ben’s Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) chapter showed a documentary on free expression, built a large free speech wall, and hosted a FIRE speaker.
The FIRE Student Network’s Student Spotlight celebrates Ben and the SU YAL chapter for all they do on campus to promote free speech and student rights. As always, FIRE stands by ready to help student groups from across the ideological spectrum advocate on behalf of civil liberties and free speech on their campuses.
FIRE asked Ben to share his experience defending student rights at SU:
FIRE: What got you started promoting student rights at Stetson University?
Ben: We started promoting student rights at Stetson University when our Young Americans for Liberty Chapter realized the trampling of speech rights by governments. We decided to facilitate a free speech week to raise awareness of the issue and promote free expression.
FIRE: Tell us about your free speech week.
Ben: Our free speech week began with a screening of the documentary Pussy versus Putin, which examined the punk rock group Pussy Riot and the censorship of free expression in Russia. We then built and hosted a free speech wall, for students to write or draw anything as a means of expressing their First Amendment rights. Students really enjoyed the wall and it was a good tool to spark discussion of the issue. Finally, our YAL chapter hosted a talk regarding free speech on campus with FIRE's Peter Bonilla. We found the analysis of our school's own free speech codes especially insightful.
FIRE: What has been the most difficult part of working to promote free speech and student rights at Stetson? The most exciting?
Ben: Many students were uninformed about the censorship and violation of free speech rights at home and around the world. It was exciting to see how many students participated in our free speech wall because it means that our generation still very much values this fundamental right.
FIRE: Do you have any advice for students who want to hold a free speech week at their school?
Ben: Don't shy away from controversy. It is the essence of the right and it will definitely attract people to your events.
FIRE: How can other students get involved in promoting liberty on their campus?
Ben: You can join or start a Young Americans for Liberty chapter at your school by visiting http://YALiberty.org. You can also obtain FIRE's Guide to Free Speech on Campus and host a free speech wall. Getting a FIRE speaker would really help educate students about your school's own free speech policies.