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 and videos 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!

Fill out the form below for full access to our six free speech orientation modules.

microphone closeup

Lesson: 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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Additional Resources for Students


Lesson: 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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Additional Resources for Students


students with cool hair and glass

Lesson: 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

Lesson: 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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Additional Resources for Students


desks in a classroom

Lesson: 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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Additional Resources for Students


lady justice

Lesson: 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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Additional Resources for Students


Newspapers

Lesson: The Role of Student Publications on Campus

Whether they are recapping last night’s football game or investigating the latest community scandal, student journalists play an important role in campus life. This module is designed with an eye toward priming incoming journalism students about their basic rights and how to navigate speech-related issues they may face. 

A video adaptation is forthcoming. 

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Additional Resources for Students


social media aps

Lesson: Social Media and Online Speech Rights

The online speech and social media posts of both students and faculty continue to be a growing source of controversy on campuses across the country. With this module, we introduce students to how the First Amendment applies to online speech, as well as how to respond productively to speech they find distasteful without resorting to calls for censorship. 

A video adaptation is forthcoming. 

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Additional Resources for Students


FAQ note cards with question marts

FAQ: The First Amendment and Campus Life 

These frequently asked questions and answers provide the basic information incoming students need to know about how the First Amendment applies to speech on campus. This FAQ is meant to be used as a reference for students, which administrators can link to or copy for on their own sites. FIRE and First Amendment Watch are available to help adapt the language to best suit a particular campus’s needs. 

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summer reading on lawn

Resource: Recommended Common Reads from FIRE and First Amendment Watch 

Assigning readings with a strong emphasis on the value of free expression and the follies of censorship can go a long way in preparing incoming students to be intellectually curious when they arrive on campus. From banned books that warn against censorial regimes to international stories about fighting censorship to books chronicling the First Amendment’s role in America’s media landscape, this list has a book or document fit for any academic program. 

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