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Student Spotlight: Kelly Barber, a Leader for Liberty and Student Rights at U. of Florida

Kelly Barber stands out as a leader at the University of Florida (UF) and has been actively involved with FIRE, most recently attending FIRE’s Leaders in Student Rights Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana. Kelly, now a member of Students For Liberty’s North American Executive Board, says she experienced the undeniable benefits of free and open debate when she began attending College Libertarian meetings, where she was “blown away by the environment of integrity, critical thinking, and tolerance they created” that allowed students “to exchange ideas on a level much higher than anything I ever experienced in classes.”

Kelly’s belief in the importance of free speech stems from her thinking that “even if my political opinions turn out to be wrong, people only stand to benefit intellectually from being exposed to a diverse range of worldviews and they should have the opportunity to decide for themselves.” Kelly’s UF College Libertarians group is a great model for other groups as they bring discussion about a range of topics to campus and engage students through a number of activities, such as organizing free speech walls, holding events with FIRE speakers, and screening films like Indoctrinate U.

UF currently has a “yellow light” rating in FIRE’s Spotlight database, so Kelly and the UF College Libertarians are hard at work, determined to make UF the first “green light” school in the state of Florida.

The FIRE Student Network’s Student Spotlight celebrates Kelly and the UF College Libertarians 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 Kelly to share her experience defending student rights at UF:

FIRE: When students in your group heard about UF's yellow light rating in FIRE's Spotlight database, what did they think?

I think it actually came as a bit of a pleasant surprise, which is sad because it shows how low students’ expectations are about the climate for free speech. When we table on campus, we get a lot of pushback from students because we promote ideas that go against the grain. Professors are often even worse when it comes to censorship. I think the students in my group are aware that the school could get away with far worse speech policies due to the discouraging academic culture here if it weren't for FIRE’s vigilance.

FIRE: What are you doing to change UF’s rating from a yellow light to a green light?

We’re very committed to getting our sexual harassment policy changed so we can be the first green light school in Florida and can set an example for the rest of the state. Currently, the policy is very vague and selectively prohibits students from showing sexually graphic photos and making sexually graphic comments and sounds. If consistently enforced, many popular student events about sex and body positivity and sexual education wouldn't be possible. As a first step, we are going to send a letter to the administration and see where we need to go from there in terms of activism.

FIRE: How can other students get involved in the fight for liberty, specifically student rights and free speech, on campus?

I recommend they apply for Students For Liberty's Campus Coordinator Program by visiting Campus coordinators receive in-depth training on how to organize effectively at their schools on issues they care about in addition to receiving a generous stipend to support their activism efforts.

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