First Amendment Watch, in partnership with Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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