Packing for school can be overwhelming. Between reviewing the hundred item checklist you find on the internet, trying to figure out what will fit in your car, and making sure you don't overload your boxes, it can be easy for certain (very) important items to get lost in the shuffle. Here's a list of fifteen items you'll be sure to want at school:
We’ve all been there. We’ve had an experience or a situation that has taken us from our “happy place” into one of despair and misery. Sometimes it can last a day, other times weeks, months and in extreme cases years. None of us are immune to things happening that we can’t control, but how we handle it is up to us.
I have certainly had occurrences where the questions, “Really God?!” and “Why me?!” has crossed the threshold of my mouth and what I have learned is that while those may be the times I feel least like having and expressing my gratitude, those are the times that I most need to go deep and find it. So, I’ve come up with a few tips to get to that place of having gratitude even when you don’t feel so grateful.
Firstly, step outside of yourself. That means stop making everything about you for a bit and focus on someone else. Give some of your time and energy to another person who could use your help or love. One way to do this is by volunteering. It is amazing how not only helping other people puts things in perspective with regard to your own life and circumstances, but it also gives you the reciprocal gift of feeling love and connection to another human being- something definitely to feel grateful for.
Next, just watch the news, even better news that covers things that are happening in other parts of the world. While this may strike a chord, because sadly so much of what is covered by the news is negative, seeing how other people’s lives are being affected in your own backyard and on the other side of the world can certainly help you qualify and classify what you’re dealing with which can in turn give a sense of gratitude.
Lastly, don’t be so hard on yourself. You are a human being. We all have ups and down; some downs are significant and life altering while other downs simply throw us off track for a bit. This isn’t about feeling bad for the sake of feeling bad – what good does that do? But when you are in the valley of disappointment and depression, start making your list. Your list of what you can be grateful for. You may feel at first like you’re pulling it out of where the sun don’t shine, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that you are taking a positive and progressive step toward being in a place of gratitude.
Here’s what I know about living in gratitude. The more we can express our gratitude, the more God/The Universe hears us and gives us more to be grateful for. It’s part of that wild Law of Attraction thing. So, the real key is to just get started and make it a habit; every day come up with 5 things for which you are grateful and just watch how that list magically expands.
If you’re not sure where to begin here’s a list that you can borrow from until you can create your own.
Things To Be Grateful For
Photo by Carolyn V on Unsplash
In May of 2017, student at Evergreen State College demanded the firing of a professor who decided not to participate in a white "Day of Absence" in which white students and faculty were requested to remain off campus, even though he offered an open statement as to why he would not attend, citing that it would not be productive disagreement. When conservative commentator Ben Shapiro came to speak at UC Berkeley, nine people were arrested in protests related to his event. These two examples represent a larger trend of increasing tensions over campus expression. The First Amendment protects freedom of speech, but how far does that protection extend within the ivy covered walls of your college campus?
From a legal standpoint, the conversation around the First Amendment on college campuses has to be divided between public and private universities. At public universities, it is well established that students have all speech rights protected under Amendment I and the law that has followed from it. This is because public universities, in the eyes of the law, are considered to be government entities, meaning that it is unconstitutional to restrict free speech on public campuses.
Free expression at private universities, however, is another matter. Private schools are not required to guarantee First Amendment protections to their students. While this may appear problematic for free expression (and with good reason), most private universities consider themselves to be ardent proponents of free speech, going out of their way to ensure student speech rights through their student handbooks. This, however, is not guaranteed, and it is within a private university's legal limits to restrict student speech, so long as they make their policies public.
A legal discussion of campus speech rights only begins to cover the issue of expression on college campuses. Free expression has been framed as a force opposed to inclusion, leading to tensions. A Gallup poll found that 53 percent of students hold diversity to be more important than free speech. Campus culture has become dominated by the idea of microaggressions and safe spaces (for more on this topic, we highly recommend "The Coddling of the American Mind"). Colleges have become more concerned with maintaining sensitivity than with protecting free expression, with students being the driving force behind this shift.
At the FRFF, we believe that this sets students up for failure. Portraying inclusion and free expression as opposites only serves to damage students by preventing them from being exposed to opinions with which they disagree. Moreover, without free expression, it becomes impossible to confront perspectives that we find unfair or offensive, leaving this viewpoints to fester and cause animosity through a lack of understanding. Rather than posing the question of whether diversity is more important than free speech, we think that it is impossible to promote and protect diversity without it.
It’s only the second month of 2018 and most of us are still probably getting into our groove after the start of a new year. I’m sure I am not alone in trying to stick with New Year’s resolutions, by regularly giving thought to what I can do to make myself and my life better. What can I change to make this happen?
For me, the idea of change hasn’t necessarily been a daunting thing as much as it’s been an external thing. For years I saw change as something that happened around me or to me; that I had to adjust or react to.
But then I came across the Norman Vincent Peele quote, “Change your thoughts and change your world.” My first thought was, how could such a simple saying be so deep and complex? Well, I was determined to make it complex, ‘cause that’s how I roll, by nature or nurture. I’ve grown to believe if something is simple it’s too easy; or it’s cheating (thanks Baby Boomer Parents!)
But the more I let that idea marinate the more I realized it is that simple. So why hadn’t I thought of it myself?! I chalk it up to it being a case of having to hear the right thing at the right time.
That got me thinking. Sure, when things aren’t going the way we want we can change external things- i.e. the variables like our clothes, our car, our hair, our jobs, even our partners- but the one thing that is constant is us! And if we’re the ones that need true change; altering or eliminating that external stuff is a just temporary fix. We must first change ourselves by, as Mr. Peele so profoundly put it, “changing our thoughts.” Otherwise we will be in an emotional tar pit for as long as we keep our old way of thinking.
There is no denying it; our thoughts are powerful. They are powerful because what starts as a thought /idea, then becomes words- written or spoken. Those words also take on power because they become actions and energy. Actions are what we must take to create the momentum for change to occur. So, it all starts with changing our thoughts—but how often do we think of it that way?!
Full disclosure- I have struggled with my weight since adolescence. I had the unfortunate hindrance of steroids and medication for asthma that played its role, but later, it was my addiction to food and using food as comfort and medication to feed my emotions that was to blame. I failed miserably at every “diet/life style” change I tried except for ONE time.
I desperately needed a change. I was coming out of a toxic work situation and personal relationship during which I’d added an additional 20+ pounds to my already full figure. But I decided to approach it from a completely different angle.
Instead of attacking the issue from the standpoint of “I’m doing this to lose weight and see how many pounds and inches I can lose.” I chose to approach it from the perspective of “How healthy can I get? How will changing the way I’m treating my body benefit me?” I was certainly open to all the possibilities and if it included not dropping a lot of weight that would be a bonus. It was my own personal psychological experiment, which I took literally one day at a time.
Not that I’m recommending this, but you should know the seriousness of my commitment. I vowed to myself and my viewers (at the time I had a daily web show) that I would go 90 Days with NO Sugar, NO Wheat, NO Dairy, NO Gluten, NO Alcohol.
On stage while doing stand-up comedy, I share that it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. Detoxing from the sugar was the worst! It was so bad at times I hallucinated. I was at the mall one day and these two little white kids with frizzy hair walked by; and I started following them because I thought they were cotton candy!
Joking aside, I did have highs and lows, but the longer I stayed in my commitment to my health vs. my singular goal of weight-loss the stronger I became and the more incredible differences I began to notice in myself. I was sleeping better. My thoughts were clearer. My skin was looked amazing! I was glowing so that a few people asked if I was pregnant. My asthma and allergies became almost non-existent and I felt really good about myself. Oh, and in those 90 days I lost about 22 inches and close to 30 lbs.
While there were several factors in my success the main one I credit is my completely different approach. Because I changed my thoughts I changed my world.
We obviously aren’t all dealing with the same struggles or issues so while there is certainly no cookie–cutter answer, I can’t help but believe that starting by changing how you think about something, changing how you approach something and seeing how you can put a twist on it will help you bring about the change you want to see and be. So when you think about it, what do you have to lose?
Photo by Ross Findon on Unsplash
Putting together an event on your college campus can be a daunting task for the uninitiated. Someone who has never booked or promoted an event may think that you just announce an event, put up some posters, and people will come to the event if they see the flyers and think it sounds interesting, but it almost always requires much more effort then that. Putting up a banner for the event in your student union may catch a few eyes, but for many first time promoters, that is where the event promotion begins and ends, so the event will almost certainly get lost in a sea of posters and banners. Based on my eight years of event booking and promotion, these are four tips to get your event more exposure and help you get butts in seats. These are not the only things you can do, but it's a great start!
2. Targeted Online Promotion
On the note of knowing your audience, it isn’t just enough to have physical promotion. Targeted online promotion is just as important. Once you know what people you are trying to reach, cruise around instagram and twitter for hashtags on your campus that are relevant to your event and see how you can incorporate them into your promotional posts. Paying for online advertising on social media can be helpful, but it is not the be-all end-all of online promotion. Boosting posts on Facebook can help, but don’t over-do it by doing it with too many different posts. Also look for Facebook groups for students on campus for events and networking that you can post about your event on.
3. Interactive promotion
When talking about online promotion, you also want to have an element of interaction. Instagram raffles/contests are often a great way to get the word out about your event to a much wider swath of people. If your event has an admission fee, have an IG raffle where users post the flyer for the event and tag a friend in order to be submitted for free entry for two. If the event is free, think of another sort of raffle or contest that can get people promoting your event on their own social media profiles.
4. Campus Coordination
Involving your school in the promotion process can also be a vital tool. Many colleges have an official event list on their website, which can be an invaluable tool for helping bring in freshman who are looking for ways to meet new people. For events that tie into the curriculum of any classes, it also a great idea to talk to the professors of those classes to see if you can work together to have the teachers assign extra credit for attending your event. Getting the extra boost of students needing a small grade bump is a fantastic way to get more eyes and ears for your organization. Making a signup sheet that you put on the welcome table at the end of the event is a great way to make sure people stick around.
Following these steps will help build your event turnout in a big way. Just like anything else, the success of your event is directly correlated to how much work you put into its preparation.
I am the woman friends and family say, “Gosh, you are fearless! I wish I could be more like you and just go for it.” I take that as a huge compliment and graciously accept it. I also try to express that I’m not some magical being and that they, too, can live like I do. I never condemn because I have been, and even some days still, walk in those shoes of hesitation and yes, FEAR. Honestly, I think the only thing that really separates me from my friends and colleagues, who are sometimes too paralyzed to act, is my own personal version of FOMO – Fear of Missing Out. Mine is more like WWIF – Wondering What IF?
WWIF is what, for the past several decades, has pushed me out of my comfort zone. To me wondering constantly what could have or would have been had I gone for it is truly hell on Earth. Wondering what if- is NOT how I can happily live my life. It’s what made me move to NYC right out of college to work for Barbara Walter’s at The View, where I had no place to live and knew I was barely going to be making enough money to make ends meet. WWIF is what made me take a stand-up comedy class that changed the course of my life; set me on a path to experiences and opportunities and friendships I never would have had. It’s been the Wondering What IF that’s driven me to take job assignments like working with Don Imus in a time when I was actually putting my physical security at risk, because I knew that if I didn’t take that job someone else would have and they likely would not have been as responsible in the position; and I wanted and needed to be a positive example of a Black Woman in the media.
Truth is, I cannot live my life with a list of “what ifs” so, I go for it. Because my theory is this- it’s only a mistake if you don’t get anything out of it. But here’s the best part—you almost always get something out of it. You get knowing you tried your hardest and either it was for you or it wasn’t. You get knowing that maybe it wasn’t really where your passion lay after all and you have no interest in trying it again. Sometimes you get success and the knowledge that this is exactly where you are supposed to be and what you are supposed to be doing. This is why when something comes my way that I want to do, I say, “YES”—even if it scares the hell out of me.
But there was that one time I didn’t say yes. It was the one time I let fear rule out. I was still in the infancy of my comedy career- meaning I hadn’t yet reached the 7 year mark (standard accepted time of “finding one’s voice” in comedy) and my manager informed me that I was being offered a spot by Comedy Central to be on the televised dais that would roast Larry the Cable Guy (who is actually a dear friend.) I was terrified! What would I say? How would I come up with all those new jokes? I’m a “nobody” in the business, will people be wondering what the hell I was doing up there? And they would laugh at me—not with me?!
I was so torn about it, I consulted older comics in the business. Hindsight being 20/20, they were probably a tad jealous that at such a young place in my career, I was being offered this opportunity. But the advice all ran along the same tone, with the underlying message being that I didn’t want to “get out there too soon” or “appear too green”- because it would hurt my chances of really excelling in the field of comedy. And worst case scenario, I could be signing my death notice with the folks at Comedy Central who would never look at me the same way again.
I let my FEAR of failure win. I hated telling my manager, “No,” that I was passing on this incredible opportunity. I was so disappointed in myself, but I thought in my heart of hearts I was making a sound strategic career move. Now, here’s the kicker, what I didn’t know and evidently my manager at the time didn’t either, was that I wasn’t going to be going it alone. That’s because Comedy Central has an entire staff of writers that help the comics write the jokes for the roast. There are almost no words for how upset I was when this revelation came to light. (Actually there are words- but none of them are anything my southern great-grandmother would approve of.)
Since that moment more than 15 years ago, whenever I get a chance to do something that has the potential to take me to the next level I say, “YES!” I say, “YES!” even when I have no idea how on earth I’m going to bring it to fruition. But the one thing I know for sure, and I don’t even know why the Universe/God works this way, is that when you say “YES” the Universe/God conspires to help you achieve your goal. Do you have to put in some work and effort? Of course! But by saying “YES” you’ve taken the first step in getting there and it is amazing how help and assistance will come to you- quite often in ways you least expect. You just have to be open for it.
In my quest to excel my comedy and speaking careers, I’ve attended many conferences and read as much material on success as I could get my hands on and one of the best acronyms for FEAR that I’ve come across is: False Evidence Appearing Real. I was at a conference once when my mentor, Jack Canfield, of Chicken Soup For the Soul fame, and I’m paraphrasing here, said that, “99 percent of the things we are a afraid of – the things and scenarios our amazingly imaginative brains come up with—NEVER come to fruition.” So that essentially means we cause more stress in our heads than what actually happens in real life.
That has stuck with me and I hope it sticks with you. While I get that it’s easy to let FEAR rule, remember that YOU, ME—WE DESERVE better and by saying “YES!” It is entirely possible to push past that fear. Even if it doesn’t turn out the way you expected, that doesn’t mean you failed. If you learned a lesson then you got something out of it. And whatever you got is a GIFT- not a failure.
Letting go is more than just the subject of a hit Disney song that became embedded in the minds of young children (okay mine as well). It’s actually a pretty on point philosophy and an art. Letting go is an art form because it requires practice and dedication to master. While I’ve not quite mastered this art yet, I definitely have my Bachelor of Science degree in it; ‘cause in the past decade I’ve let go of a major job, a couple of “friends”, a few apartments, a plethora of clothes, a boyfriend or 3 (whose counting), and a car that I loved so much I named it.
Did I want to let go of all of those things? At the time, the answer for most of it was, “No!” But I had to come to terms with the truth. Which was that many of those things were no longer working for me. They were not helping me grow or move forward in life (quite literally with the car) nor were they contributing to my sense of wellbeing and happiness.
You know that feeling when a part of your life feels like you are stuck at a standstill. Well, that quagmire is no coincidence. That is the time you need to ask yourself “What is it in my life that is not serving me?” Not gonna lie, that’s not always the easiest question to ask and certainly not the easiest to answer. Mainly, because the answer can range from the existential (i.e. a bad habit, a grudge, thinking you can change someone other than yourself) to the physical (weight, clothes in your closet your forgot you owned, a set of encyclopedias you posthumously inherited from your grandparents.)
Sometimes, we need to let go of an emotion like anger, fear, guilt, or resentment. Sometimes, we need to bid adieu to a toxic relationship or an addiction. Other times it can be something physical that is quite literally cluttering your life from clothes to books to furniture to e-mails. Listen, I’m all for “let go and let God” and not to diminish the power of the Almighty, I understand Jesus may take the wheel, but there’s no doubt it is up to me to clean out my inbox.
The wild part about letting go is that you know it’s “stuff” you no longer need but you’re holding on because…. Because it brings you comfort. Because you’ve grown used to it (comfort). Because it’s scary to think about what happens after you let it go (comfort.) Because you think you need permission to let it go (comfort.) Because it’s safe and you “know it” (comfort.) Because you want to “avoid drama” (comfort). Because you believe it’s easier to have it in your life than not (comfort).
Suffice to say, comfort, or the lack thereof is at the root of not letting go. The irony of all ironies is that there is even comfort in holding on to the negative stuff. Because within that comfort we get to have an excuse for why we are stuck; a reason for not being able to move forward, or something/someone to blame other than ourselves for why we are unhappy, stagnant, or unsuccessful. Might I suggest holding on to the lesson, but releasing the experience and emotions that no longer serve you. I know this is easier said than done, but it is possible.
I would never proclaim that letting go is easy; it can at times be very uncomfortable. But when you do let go it is a powerful and empowering experience that is filled with rich rewards. It takes being courageous and bold to let go. Especially, of the things we’ve lead ourselves to believe we need, whatever it is, to survive. But guess what? You don’t need the 7 pairs of jeans that you wore before you went to college or got pregnant because you plan to get back into them one day. You don’t need that friend who is a “crazy maker” or an energy vampire to the Nth degree and sucks the life out of you without replenishing what they took. You don’t need the romantic partner who is abusive, or so unhappy with their own life that they are stifling your spirit and soul. You don’t need to waste money on a storage container full of things you never intend to use again and will only cause resentment when you croak and your remaining family members have to deal with it.
When you are bold enough to let go a series of things happen. After the initial fear and anxiety subside, and it does—I promise, you will be met with a wave of relief as though a weight has been lifted off you. You will actually feel a sense of freedom and a lightness in your head and heart. Next, you will gain the awareness that you are no longer dependent on something or beholden to someone to bring you comfort, peace or joy. Lastly, when you let go, you create a space in your life for something new and almost always better, to take the place of what you released and by goodness it will be something that serves you because it will match your intentions.
To be clear, letting go isn’t giving up. It is consciously releasing whatever energy, attention, clutter, pain, waste, excess, etc. that is not serving you. There is power in doing this. If you think you need permission consider it granted. If you need to start slow, by all means take it step-by-step. As I mentioned, I’ve been at this for a while and sometimes it takes life-altering events to generate a wake up call to set the wheels in motion. Other times it’s been a book, an article or conversation with a friends that put me on the right path. I’ve been fortunate enough to have all of the above influence my life and I hope these words are a catalyst in helping you let go of whatever you need to as well because you are most definitely worth it.
In the past a five years I have experienced some pretty incredible and drastic life changes. I went from being a single Carrie Bradshaw-esque New Yorker to a married stay-at-home-working mom of two under two. I had the very specific life dream to be married and “have a couple of kids” by a certain birthday- I met my goal with 48 hours to spare. But things were and still are far from perfect.
I know I’m not alone. I am not the only woman who suffers from “perfection-itis” (Shout out to Doc McStuffins). Most women, not all, but most have this ingrained, yet completely unnatural, compulsion to be perfect. We want to be the perfect wife, perfect girlfriend, perfect mother, perfect friend, perfect sister, perfect daughter, perfect boss, perfect employee. THE PERFECT PERSON!!! We want it like there’s a prize to be had.
I’m dying to know where this idea of attaining perfection came from. Did it start with my mother or the Kardashians? Does it go as far back as supermodels or the whacked-out image of the 1950’s housewife that our own mothers and grandmother’s were killing themselves to emulate? After a “come-to-Jesus-meeting” with myself about it, sadly, I understood I’ve been attempting perfection most of my life. I’ve only just had the realization that my attempts have been in vain.
You see, a few days after the birth of my first daughter while lamenting, what at the time felt like an epic fail in my mothering and life skills, a girlfriend said to me, “Karith, you can be perfect…or you can be happy. The choice is yours.”
Now, that’s when the heavens should have opened up; angels begun their chorus and my friend should have been showered in a golden white light equivalent to the epiphany I should have had in that moment. Unfortunately, I was too tired and foggy to appreciate the power of those words. I know now, that was one of the best pieces of advice I have ever received. Her statement was simple and nonjudgmental and while it made me smile and feel good on the surface it took years of marinating to help me get to where I am now.
So how with two kids under two, a relatively new relationship/marriage and a very demanding career, did I get into the right headspace to choose happiness over perfection? The first thing I had to do was acknowledge that it IS a choice. The second thing I had to do was recognize perfection for the lie that it is. There is no such thing as perfect and that is okay.
In order to stay on my track for happiness and not be sucked into the veritable pitfalls of perfection I developed a guide for myself. I call it sticking to the B.A.S.I.C.S.
Be kind to yourself. It is amazing how readily we beat ourselves up but are so quick to be sympathetic to a friend. You need to be your own best friend and treat yourself as such. This also means be your own biggest cheerleader so that others know how to treat you. People take their cues how to treat you from how they see you treat yourself.
Ask for help. Even I still need work on this one. But I’ve realized I can let my pride stand in the way of my success and be miserable or I can ask for what I need and 9 times out of 10 get it. This isn’t about taking advantage of another person’s time or energy it’s about putting what you need out there and in doing so taking care of yourself so that you can then pay it forward. Why do you think companies hire employees or start-ups seek investors? They need help to get the success they desire.
Stop comparing yourself. To whom you may ask? To your mother, your sister, your brother, your cousin, your best friend, the Super PTA Mom, the mom blogger you follow, anyone on Pinterest, your Facebook frienemy, your boss, your nemesis. If you’ve not picked up what I’m saying -essentially anyone who makes you feel less than when you compare yourself to them. Your #1 job is to be THE BEST YOU you can be.
Ignore the critics- that includes you. Don’t let anyone talk you out of your dreams, don’t let anyone create doubt. Be open to advice and guidance for sure, but there is a distinct difference between someone who is trying to support you in their critique versus someone whose trying to bring you down.
Celebrate even the smallest of victories. Say you stepped out of your comfort zone and you did something, like, oh, I don’t know asked for help? Or maybe you’re a new mom and you’ve not slept in more than 3 hour increments in weeks. Celebrate that stuff. Have a Hershey’s kiss, do a 60 second “happy dance”, get that 10-minute shower Girlfriend!
Say thank you. Show gratitude for even the smallest things. Sometimes we have days where it seems like everything is going wrong, like we can’t catch a break and if one more person gets on one more nerve you’re going to lose it. But before you do- stop. Take a deep breath and quickly think of 5 things that you are truly grateful you have in your life. It can be as simple as access to clean water or as deep as both of your parents are still alive. It doesn’t matter what you’re grateful for, just reflect on it for a moment until you’re grounded again. Don’t just do this when you’re upset. Make this a regular exercise. I don’t know why it works this way, but God/The Universe hears/feels this gratitude and for some reason rewards you with more to be grateful.
I am in no way perfect, nor is this article, but I’m happier for putting it out there and I hope you take what you need from it. Remember, perfection is in the eye of the advertiser, the casting director and the photoshopper. Happiness is in the heart of the beholder.
Small talk echoes about you as newly minted business cards pass from person to person, as if by way of slight of hand tricks. You look for a familiar face, but find yourself lost in a sea of well-tailored suits and little black dresses. Forced laughter bounces from wall to wall. Your heart beats faster, hands holding on more tightly to that brand new briefcase. You anxiously walk to the bar for some water, avoiding eye contact while secretly hoping someone notices that one statement necklace you so carefully selected with the hope that someone would notice you and start the conversation so that you would not have to approach them first: welcome to your first networking event.
Okay, that may have been a bit over-dramatic. Today, I love networking events, especially as a student. I was not always so fond of waltzing up to strangers and introducing myself though, and the situation I described above is pretty much a play-by-play of how my first networking event went. It was awkward. I stuck to the corners, had a few meaningless conversations, and left feeling defeated.
How did I go from discouraged by networking to energized by the very thought of it? I changed my mindset. When I went to my first networking event, I saw it as a chance to get ahead, to make my impression on someone important and leave feeling good about myself. It wasn't until after I had left that event that I realized how such a perspective was preventing me from doing just that.
Networking is a term that tends to dehumanize your interactions with other people at events. I only started to enjoy networking when I thought about what "networking" really means: building meaningful connections with other people. By meaningful, I don't mean important to succeeding in your career aspirations or to building resume. I am talking about building meaningful human connections to other people, beginning to build a relationship with them because you are generally interested in who they are and what they do rather than how they can benefit you. Start with that mindset, follow these eleven tips, and I promise that your first networking experience will be more enjoyable than mine.
The First Amendment: you hear the term tossed around constantly. You hear it as a defense for a controversial tweet, as the basis of a Supreme Court decision, or around your college campus when controversial speakers are invited. What really is the First Amendment thought, from a legal standpoint, and what liberties does it guarantee? The answer is more complicated than it seems.
Let's start with the basics. The First Amendment full text reads, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances." There are five specific rights guaranteed in Amendment I: freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of assembly, and freedom to petition.
Freedom of religion, though it has been debated and interpreted differently for centuries, is the most self-explanatory aspect of the First Amendment. Amendment I makes two guarantees regarding freedom of religion: that no laws will be passed to establish a national religion, and that no one will be prohibited from practicing their religion freely. Freedom of the press ensures that the government will not interfere with any individual or group's ability to publish what they see fit. Freedom of assembly guarantees people the right to assemble and take action as groups, while freedom to petition the government protects the right of the people to criticize the government without fear of punishment. While freedom of speech seems to be the most self-explanatory First Amendment right of all, it is one of the most nuanced and complex topics in American legal history. Each of these aspects of Amendment I are far more nuanced than I have portrayed them above, and each will be covered in a later blog post. This post, however, will focus on freedom of speech, and discuss its limitations in American society today.
What does freedom of speech mean?
Freedom of speech is a term that is often used lightly without a solid definition. At its most broad definition, freedom of speech as enumerated in the First Amendment prohibits the government from infringing on or banning speech because it disagrees with the content being expressed.
Over the past several centuries though, the term "free speech" has become more complex.Freedom of speech has come to include the right not to speak (West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette), the right to advertise (Virginia Board of Pharmacy v. Virginia Consumer Council), and the right to contribute to political campaigns (Bucky v. Valeo). The term speech itself has been complicated by decisions like that in Texas v. Johnson, which ruled that burning a flag constitutes a form of "symbolic speech" that is protected by Amendment I, and that of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which ruled that the spending of money is constitutionally protected speech that cannot be restricted by the government.
Freedom of speech, thought it has become more complex over the centuries since it was enumerated in the United States Constitution, still generally refers to the natural right of an individual to speak freely without fear or threat of censorship by the government or any government institution.
What kind of speech is not protected by Amendment I?
The United States guarantees more freedom of speech than anywhere else in the world, but there are certain forms of speech that are not protected by Amendment I or other speech law. These include:
One of the most important things to remember about the First Amendment is that it lays out the rules that govern free speech in the public domain. There are a slew of other speech issues that come with speech when it is moved into the private sector.
How are the rules different for speech in the private sector?
It is important to keep in mind that the First Amendment protects freedom of speech from infringement by the government; Amendment I does not prohibit private entities from violating individual freedoms. As such, freedom of speech is not a legally held right in private workplaces or universities. Though there are laws to protect employees from discrimination, there is no constitutionally protected freedom of speech in the workplace. Public sector employees enjoy the right to free speech in the workplace, although employers may restrict free speech in order to ensure a functional workplace.
Universities follow a similar structure. Any censorship of protected speech at a public university constitutes government censorship, and it is thus forbidden. Private universities, however, reserve the right to craft any kind of speech restrictions they see fit. Throughout American history, private universities prided themselves on holding higher education to a standard of free expression even higher than that which is guaranteed in the Constitution. This culture has shifted over the course of the past decade though, as students continue to demand more restrictive speech codes in the name of protesting harassment and discrimination. A later article will consider why such speech codes are counterproductive.
Why should I care?
Freedom of speech is one of the attributes that makes the United States a strong nation. It allows democracy to flourish, constructive disagreement to occur, and the nation to progress. Knowing your rights is imperative to ensuring that freedom of speech is both protected and properly utilized. As this blog continues, we will cover issues such as internet speech, the value of constructive disagreement, and how freedom of speech contributes to American democracy. Until then, we encourage you to leave your comments below! Are there any free speech basics we missed? Are there specific codes and legal decisions with which you disagree? Let us know, and contribute your voice to our conversation. After all, freedom of speech is meaningless unless we utilize it.