• Home

[VIRTUAL] Free Speech Live!: How to Beat Book Bans

Stack of open books with pages fanned out and with red overlay in background; on top: “Free Speech Live! A biweekly virtual forum for students. How to Beat Book Bans featuring special guest: Jonathan Friedman, Director, Free Expression and Education, PEN America”

An online forum hosted by PEN America’s Free Expression and Education program as part of our biweekly student-centered evening workshop series, Free Speech Live!

Campaigns to ban books from public schools and libraries are spreading quickly across the United States. Students in numerous states—Texas, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Ohio, to name a few— are being negatively impacted, and those who stand up for diverse literature and honest history are confronting seas of misinformation, if not overt hostility and intimidation. With so many disgruntled parents and community members engaged in a backlash against diversity and inclusion, calling for the censorship of dozens, if not hundreds, of books and curricular materials, how can students mobilize and respond? What can they expect and demand from school leaders in the face of these aggressive campaigns? And how can they stand against state legislators passing laws to ban entire historical topics and intellectual frameworks from schools and colleges?


Join PEN America for this interactive online forum featuring a brief presentation, discussion, and Q&A session with Jonathan Friedman, PEN America’s director of free expression and education, to discuss answers to these questions and more. High school and college alumni of PEN America’s Institutes and other students are welcome to join.

Special Guest

Jonathan Friedman headshotJonathan Friedman is the director of free expression and education at PEN America, where he oversees advocacy, analysis, and outreach to educational communities and academic institutions. In this role, he drives forward PEN America’s efforts to catalyze a more informed, civic culture through free expression education for the rising generation and the general public. Friedman served as lead author on PEN America’s 2019 report, Chasm in the Classroom: Campus Free Speech in a Divided America, and on the production of its digital Campus Free Speech Guide. He regularly provides commentary on campus free speech issues for national news media has facilitated workshops and conducted advisory meetings with students, faculty, and administrators at dozens of colleges and universities across the United States.


Nicholas Perez headshotNicholas “Niko” Perez is the manager of free expression and education at PEN America. In this role, he advances PEN America’s efforts to catalyze a more informed, civic culture through free expression education for the rising generation and the general public, and supports advocacy, analysis, and outreach in the national debate around free speech and inclusion in higher education. Perez co-directs the Free Speech Advocacy Institute and hosts Free Speech Live!, a biweekly series of youth-oriented discussions focusing on contemporary issues related to free speech, open exchange, human rights, and democracy. Perez previously worked for the Columbia University Human Rights Advocates Program and consulted for the Human Rights Education and Training section at the United Nations. He holds a master’s degree from Columbia University in human rights and humanitarian policy and a bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University in international politics. He also was a Global Leadership Fellow at Waseda University in Japan, a Model United Nations advisor at Mira Costa High School, and a forensics researcher for the Yahad-in Unum genocide research agency.

Leila Markosian headshotLeila Markosian is the free expression and education program assistant at PEN America, supporting the Free Speech Advocacy Institute and its advocacy for free expression in educational institutions. She earned her BA in comparative literature with a focus on French and English texts from Middlebury College. Her honors thesis addressed colonization within the publishing industry, and she continues to be interested in how identity and platform constitute power. Before joining PEN America, Markosian served as program coordinator for the Page One Literacy Project, and interned at the New England Review.

Get the Free Speech News You Need

protesters in face masks carrying old Belarusian national flags

PEN America has a new weekly newsletter, PEN Points, bringing you a digest of the biggest free expression news of the week, plus the analysis and insights you trust from PEN America experts.