The FIRE Student Network’s Student Spotlight recognizes students who are paving the way for free speech on their campuses. This month, FIRE is proud to recognize Nate Honeycutt, the president of the Cal Poly College Republicans at California Polytechnic State University. Nate, a fourth-year student studying psychology, has been working tirelessly to change his school’s “yellow light” rating in our Spotlight database. His goal? To help Cal Poly become the first “green light” university in California and serve as an “example to the numerous other universities in California that are in desperate need of free speech policy revisions.”
Nate, a civil liberties superstar, has explored several avenues on his quest to combat the detrimental policies at Cal Poly. Between creating free speech walls, hosting a FIRE speaker, and advocating for student rights on the “Campus Administrative Policies” ad hoc committee, he has gotten both students and administrators FIRE’d up. His advice for others looking to replicate his hard work is inspiring: “Don’t give up the fight. At times it may be an uphill battle, but in the long run it is a cause worth fighting for.”
We celebrate Nate and his group for their hard work! 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 Nate to share his experience promoting free speech, and he offers excellent advice to students wanting to amplify their voice on campus.
FIRE: What got you started promoting student rights on your campus?
NATE: Three things got me started: my desire to protect my rights and the rights of my club, the desire to protect the rights of other students and clubs, and campus apathy and lack of knowledge about student rights, free speech, and the First Amendment.
FIRE: What policies are you working to change at Cal Poly? What inspired you to work toward reforming these policies?
NATE: I am currently working on multiple fronts here at Cal Poly. On the primary front I am spearheading an effort by my club to eliminate a newly created “open membership” (or “all-comers”) policy (that mandates all club membership and leadership positions must be open to all students). This policy renders belief-based [clubs] (e.g. my club) and achievement-exclusive [organizations] (e.g. honor societies) helpless in protecting their mission and purpose and for some renders them helpless in preventing a takeover by hostile interests. On the other front I am also working to change policies FIRE has identified as yellow light policies at Cal Poly. If Cal Poly can properly revise these policies, we have the potential to become the first green-light university in California.
FIRE: Do you have any advice for students who want to plan their own free speech wall or other activism event?
NATE: Free speech walls are a fantastic way to engage the campus in a conversation about free speech. It is a large, bold visual that will take on the character of the campus, and is a fun way to symbolically represent free speech on campus. When making a wall, make it sturdy, make it as large as you can (depending on budget, supplies us[ed], and campus rules), and make it safe. Our group constructed our wall with four sheets of drywall, (2) 4x4x6 legs, and (8) 2x4x8 [pieces] for the frame and support. It stood out and had plenty of space for people to write. Be sure, though, to have a sign or something telling people what the wall is, and what it represents. Though most will probably get the gist of it, you want to make sure that the meaning is not lost.
Activism events are another great opportunity to get your message out, whether it be hosting a FIRE or other free speech oriented speaker, organizing a rally, [or] much more. Just make sure that with all the planning and organization that significant effort is put into publicity (or finding other groups to co-sponsor the event) so that you have a good turnout of people participating.
FIRE: How can other students get involved in the fight for student rights on campus?
NATE: Do whatever it takes to help peers become aware of their rights, especially their First Amendment rights. If your peers are ignorant, they cannot help your cause, won’t sympathize with your cause, and may be taken advantage of as a result. To protect the First Amendment into the future, we need to make sure that individuals properly understand it.
Get plugged in with student government and other university governing bodies wherever possible. This will help you learn the ins and outs of your university and will possibly put you in a position where you can enact change or advocate from a stronger platform for appropriate change.
Take advantage of campus media (e.g. the student newspaper). Write op-eds and publicize your advocacy work. This will help you educate the campus, rally popular support as the conversation is elevated, and possibly help with rallying the local community and alumni to your cause.
Partner with local representatives in government. They may have unique insight, or be able to help as advocates for your cause.
There are so many different routes that you can take to get involved with fighting for student rights on campus, and so many routes that can help propel your cause forward. There is no one-size-fits-all formula for every campus. Your campus is unique and will take a unique approach.
Don’t give up the fight. At times it may be an uphill battle, but in the long run it is a cause worth fighting for.