University students have been laying the groundwork over summer vacation for a fight for freedom of expression that they hope to take to student governments and administrations across the country.
A group named Students for Free Expression has representatives from 20 schools, including one in Mexico, that have committed to bringing resolutions in defense of free speech before their peers at the start of the fall semester.
Matthew Foldi, the University of Chicago student who founded the initiative, said the students plan to begin with DePaul University in Illinois and Ohio's Oberlin College, which he described as "awful" on freedom of expression. If the resolutions can pass through those student governments, Foldi said it would prove that "anywhere is possible."
"It's a win-win for us. Even if the attempts don't work out, we would show that students are advocating for this," said Foldi. "If students could go and say, ‘We want this and it failed,' it shows that the student government is not listening to its constituents."
Foldi held a conference at the University of Chicago for his then newly formed group in April. Twenty-two students from 14 schools attended that event, at which they developed a Statement of Principles committing to "stand united in our shared conviction that free expression is critical to our society, in spite of our differing backgrounds, perspectives, and ideologies." That document has since gathered over 1000 signatures from students and faculty at dozens of schools.
"Unfortunately, there can at times be a social stigma in attaching one's name to this sort of issue, but we have conservatives, liberals, and progressives signing up," said Foldi.
In recent weeks, Foldi has been urging group members to identify who might be an "advocate" on student government for their cause, and to begin collecting signatures in support of the specific on-campus resolutions.
Foldi said it will be up to the students of each school to craft the exact language of their free-speech motion.
"We want to make it as easy as possible to get students, student governments, trustees, and ideally, eventually, state legislatures to do what is right and easy," said Foldi. "It's not just about having freedom of expression policies, but acting out those policies."