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[WEBINAR] Free Press on Campus and COVID-19: A Leadership Roundtable with Student Journalists

An online forum hosted by PEN America’s Campus Free Speech Program

This is PEN America’s third online forum in our webinar series, “Free Speech & the Virtual Campus.” More webinars will be announced.

As COVID-19 has shifted campuses online and media outlets have scrambled to cover the crisis, student press groups around the country have stepped up in enormous ways to serve their communities. Amid challenges with finances, staffing, printing, records access, and university staff communications, student journalist leaders continue to move their teams forward in support of an informed public.

Join PEN America and the Student Press Law Center in a roundtable with student press leaders from eight universities as we discuss ways to navigate this crisis and safeguard free expression and a free press in these turbulent and uncertain times.



Nora Benavidez

Nora Benavidez is the director of U.S. Free Expression Programs, where she guides PEN America’s national advocacy agenda on First Amendment and free expression issues to defend press freedom where journalists are targeted for their work, to combat disinformation which threatens to erode engagement in democratic institutions, to support protest rights and the ability of dissenting voices to speak up, and to fight back against forms of censorship that chill writers. Benavidez is a lawyer by training and, prior to joining PEN America, she worked in private practice as a civil and human rights litigator, having represented victims of unconstitutional police practices, First Amendment infringements, and voting rights violations. In addition to her work as a litigator, Benavidez partnered with regional grassroots organizations and state and local legislative entities, advising and testifying on community-centered reforms in government transparency, criminal justice, and free speech. Benavidez previously worked as a staff attorney at the ACLU of Georgia.

Mike HiestandMike Hiestand has been integral to the Student Press Law Center’s (SPLC) success since 1989. He was an SPLC intern, its first legal fellow, and then served as full-time staff attorney from 1991–2003. Over the years, he has assisted about 16,000 student journalists and advisers. He currently works from the west coast on the SPLC hotline and related projects. In 2013–14, Hiestand traveled around the country with Mary Beth Tinker, teaching and speaking out on behalf of student press rights and free expression. “Tinker Tour USA” kicked off on Constitution Day at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. The bus logged 15,595 miles across the American east coast, midwest and southeast speaking to more than 20,000 students and teachers at 58 stops, including schools, colleges, churches, a youth detention facility, courts, and several national conventions. In the spring of 2014, The Tinker Tour moved on to schools and events in the American west, midwest and southwest, as well as a stop in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and Vancouver, Canada. Hiestand, who grew up in Alaska, graduated from Bartlett High School in Anchorage and went on to Marquette University’s College of Journalism and Cornell Law School.


Nicholas "Niko" PerezNicholas “Niko” Perez is the program coordinator for campus free speech at PEN America. He supports PEN America’s advocacy, analysis, and outreach in the national debate around free speech and inclusion in higher education. 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.

Student Journalist Leaders

  • Sophie Austin, Editor-in-Chief at The Eagle, American University
  • Erin Doherty, Lead Student Researcher at the Free Speech Project, Georgetown University
  • Jake Goldstein-Street, News Editor at UW Daily, University of Washington
  • Christina Morales, Editor-in-Chief at The Independent Florida Alligator, University of Florida
  • Isaiah Poritz, Executive Editor at The Emory Wheel, Emory University
  • Aidan Ryan, President at The Harvard Crimson, Harvard University
  • Karen Xia, Editor-in-Chief at the Columbia Daily Spectator, Columbia University
  • Josh Yuen, Editor-in-Chief at The Daily Californian, UC Berkeley