I’m nearing the end of my summer working as a legal intern at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a non-profit watchdog protecting freedom of expression and other civil liberties on college campuses. As a First Amendment nerd and education policy junkie, I have loved every minute of my job.
There has been no shortage of work to be done at FIRE. Within my first few weeks, I was teaming up with FIRE’s other legal intern and Student Press Law Center staffers to draft an amici brief in support of a college student who had been expelled from school for tweeting insults about his ex-girlfriend. Right now, I’m researching relevant law and developing arguments that can be applied when a college indirectly retaliates against a student publication by disciplining its adviser. Other assignments have had me doing long-term research about due process and writing about First Amendment retaliation cases for the FIRE blog.
This week, I witnessed UNC-Chapel Hill becoming one of fewer than 25 colleges nationwide that FIRE rates as “green light” for its speech codes. This means that Carolina is among the best of the best in demonstrating a commitment to protecting students’ right to free speech (and it also means we’re beating Duke, which is still stuck at a yellow light). After having been a “yellow light” school since 2008, Carolina earned its new rating by revising multiple speech codes, including a vague policy banning speech that “disparages” another. Carolina had been a “red light” school prior to 2008.
I get giddy when law and social criticism meet, so I appreciate that FIRE doesn’t approach censorship solely as a legal concept. Instead, FIRE sees it as a societal issue with broad consequences. When I’m not researching legal questions, I’m engaging in conversations about pluralism, civic engagement, and media literacy – all of which are harmed when student expression is stifled.
FIRE’s office is in the heart of Philadelphia, across the street from Independence Hall and only two blocks from the Liberty Bell. Since I am lucky enough to live just four blocks from the office in a small, historic townhouse, I have had ample opportunity to explore and be entrenched in the history of the city.
This internship has been a fantastic way to learn more about First Amendment and education law while putting my skills and passion to work on real-life cases.
Second-year student in UNC-CH’s dual degree program, earning a master’s in mass communication and a J.D.