PEN America’s Freedom to Learn Student Summit – Northern California

Freedom to Learn Student Summit - NorCal Logo

PEN America is coming to the San Francisco Public Library this March to host our first-ever Freedom to Learn Student Summit for high school students in Northern California! This unique day of thematic workshops and activities led by PEN America student leaders and staff will help equip students with the knowledge and skills necessary to combat book banning and educational censorship to preserve the freedoms to read and learn in their schools, libraries, and communities across the region and beyond!

Our program will begin with brief presentations that introduce students to PEN America and the San Francisco Public Library, as well as the state of book bans and educational censorship issues locally and across the United States. Breakout discussions and activities will follow, where students can engage on some of the most difficult questions related to free expression and schools today. Students will be tasked at the end to work together on presenting advocacy campaign ideas to address freedom to learn challenges, exploring new and innovative ways to address the issues together through creativity and activism.


This event is open to students in any level of high school and is free to attend. Lunch will be provided. Capacity is limited so register as soon as possible. The last day to register will be Wednesday, March 22, 2023 at 11:59 pm PT. If you have any questions, please contact us at [email protected].




Program Itinerary:


Activity: Starts: Ends:

Welcome and Opening Remarks from PEN America and the San Francisco Public Library

10:00 AM 10:30 AM

Workshop: The State of Book Bans and Educational Censorship in the United States

10:30 AM 11:15 AM
15 min Break 11:15 AM 11:30 AM

Workshop: Proactive Literary Advocacy for School Boards, Administrations, and Student Communities

11:30 AM 12:15 PM

Lunch with Photo Booth and Poster Making

12:15 PM 1:15 PM

Workshop: Rally the Readers! Tips and Success Stories from Student Organizers

1:15 PM 2:00 PM
15 min Break 2:00 PM 2:15 PM

A Conversation with Cartoonist and Comic Series Creator Justin Hall

2:15 PM 3:15 PM
Group Photo 3:15 PM 3:30 PM
*Subject to Change*



Special Guest:


Justin Hall headshotJustin Hall is a cartoonist and comics series creator. He has stories in the Houghton Miflin Best American Comics, QU33R, and the SF Weekly, among others, and has exhibited his art in galleries and museums internationally. Hall edited the Lambda Literary Award-winning, Eisner-nominated No Straight Lines: Four Decades of Queer Comics, which he’s now producing as a feature-length documentary film. Most recently, he conceived and co-edited the anthology Theater of Terror: Revenge of the Queers. He curated the world’s first museum show of LGBTQ comics at the S.F. Cartoon Art Museum, as well as co-curated the largest such show at the Schwules Museum in Berlin. Hall is the first Fulbright Scholar of Comics, an Associate Professor of Comics at California College of the Arts, the Co-Organizer of the Queers & Comics Conference, is on the boards of the non-profits Prism Comics (supporting LGBTQ comics) and Siewphewyeung/Our Books (supporting Cambodian comics), and has written chapters on both LGBTQ comics for the Routledge Companion to Comics and the Cambridge History of the Graphic Novel. Hall spent years backpacking through over 70 countries and speaks decent Spanish, terrible French, and a smattering of other languages… just enough to get him in trouble. He lives in San Francisco with his husband and their pet python.


Student organizers:


Leela Hensler Headshot Hi, I’m Leela Hensler! I’m a junior at Albany High School in Albany (near Berkeley). In school, I’m a leadership member in Speak, a student group working for social justice in Albany through education, and a captain on the AHS debate and track teams. Outside of school, I’ve interned for organizations such as United 4 Iran and the North American branch of the World Uyghur Congress, among other activities. In my free time, I enjoy running, baking, and trying new boba places. Through my advocacy work, I have seen the importance of upholding the freedom to learn in our schools. I’m thrilled to be working with PEN America to continue protecting educational freedoms in Northern California and across the United States.


Margo Weber HeadshotHi, I’m Margo Weber! I am a 9th grader at Lick-Wilmerding High School in San Francisco. I enjoy dancing, gymnastics, creative writing, and coding in my spare time! In school, I am part of the Girls in Tech club and am an editor of my school’s literary magazine. I have seen the importance of freedom of speech and the right to learn through local advocacy. As these rights are increasingly threatened, I am committed to championing protections for the freedom to learn! I am honored to be working with PEN America and eager to fight for the freedom of education.


PEN America Staff:


headshot of Nicholas PerezNicholas “Niko” Perez is the program 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.





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