Free Speech at Freshman Orientation

students sitting on the grass on campus

FIRE, in partnership with New York University’s First Amendment Watch, has developed a series of modules for universities to utilize when teaching incoming students about their free speech rights and the principles behind the First Amendment. Our hope is that universities will adapt the modules most applicable to their institution for use during freshman orientation, first-year seminars, and other campus programs.

To ensure an open and robust campus climate for free expression, incoming students need to understand the importance of exercising their First Amendment rights and respecting the rights of others. Recent controversies surrounding divisive speakers and student protests show the need for this kind of education from the moment students enter college.

If you are an administrator in the field of student affairs or the first-year experience and are interested in adopting the orientation program — or if you are a student or faculty member looking to promote the use of our materials on campus — feel free to reach out to us at orientation@thefire.org. FIRE and FAW are more than happy to talk through how to best implement this program on your campus!

microphone closeup

Campus Speakers and Counter Protests

When controversial speakers are brought to campus, students often have questions about why such speakers are allowed to have a platform and how to respond productively to speakers they disagree with. This module covers topics such as viewpoint neutrality in administrative decision-making, freedom of association for student groups, counter protests, and other methods of dissent.

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Offensive Speech on Campus

Offensive speech is nearly unavoidable in diverse environments such as college campuses. With the help of video from Nadine Strossen, former president of the ACLU, this module teaches students how to cope with and respond to offensive speech. Additionally, it teaches why the First Amendment protects “hate speech” and when offensive speech loses First Amendment protection.

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students with cool hair and glass

Talking Across Differences

When students enter college, they will meet others from all walks of life with different opinions, experiences, and backgrounds. This can be a difficult environment to adapt to, so it is important to help students develop the ability to talk across their differences. This skill will help students become more inquisitive and confident in their own knowledge.

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equal rights protest/march

Student Protest Then and Now

Introduce students to the history of student protest on campus and how activists throughout history laid the groundwork for today’s robust protections for student speech. By highlighting the role of university students in the Civil Rights Movement and in fighting McCarthy era censorship, this module is meant to empower students to be active participants in their university community.

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desks in a classroom

Academic Freedom and Classroom Speech

The principles behind academic freedom are important for students to understand in any college classroom. This module covers the importance of academic freedom in higher education, the rights of faculty, and how students can handle disagreements with their professors. The module also lays out the framework for a faculty-led panel on academic freedom.

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lady justice

Limits to Free Speech

Teach incoming students about when speech crosses the line and loses First Amendment protection. This module focuses primarily on defining and providing examples of harassment, true threats, intimidation, and other unlawful conduct. With this knowledge, students can more accurately gauge when their speech, or their peers’ speech, may be impermissible or may result in violations of others’ rights.

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