Event encourages expressions of free speech

The communication department celebrated Free Speech Week with a series of events on Oct. 25 and 26.

Free Speech Week is a yearly celebration held by The Media Institute, a nonprofit research institute dedicated to free speech and excellence in journalism. The event’s purpose is to promote awareness and appreciation for First Amendment rights.

Though students all over the United States participate in festivities, this year was the first time John Brown University celebrated.

Marquita Smith, head of the communication department, organized the event. Smith is especially passionate about free speech after being a Knight International Fellow in Liberia. While there, she assisted in drafting a freedom of information act.

“It’s important that students understand that people all around the world have given their lives just to offer a dissenting opinion,” said Smith.

Smith invited Pulitzer Prize winner Glenn Proctor to come speak to two classes on Thursday. Proctor is a friend and mentor of Smith’s. He is currently executive editor of Lake Norman Publications and owner and leadership trainer for his company REDDjobb.

Proctor spoke on free speech in the public relations field to a public relations writing class. Later that day, he spoke on the first amendment and the media to a Mass Communications class. Proctor asked big questions and frequently called upon his numerous experiences in media and marketing.

On Thursday night, Free Speech Zone offered students a chance to exercise their rights in an open forum setting. Participants had five minutes to say or do whatever they liked. Several students shared opinions, told stories or played songs.

“It was definitely an amazing night,” said sophomore Caleb Ellicott, who played one of his own songs, “Running Isn’t Right.”

Finally, on Friday, students had the opportunity to ask Proctor questions in a talk back session. Proctor spoke on how he became a journalist and his early days in the journalism business. He also gave advice, both for career and life.

Though attendance was not as high as anticipated, Smith expressed her desire to celebrate Free Speech Week again next year. Several students showed similar interest.

“I think it should be an annual event, if not twice annually. It was amazing,” said Ellicott.

As for the effects of Free Speech Week, Smith only hopes that students learned to appreciate their rights.

“It’s important that we not forget, and not take [freedom of speech] for granted,” said Smith. “It does make us different. It’s a gift.”