PEN America Free Expression Advocacy Institute - Summer 2023 - LA



Monday – Friday, June 26 – 30, 2023 | 10:00 am – 3:30 pm PT

Second Home Hollywood, 1370 N St. Andrews Pl, Los Angeles, CA 90028


PEN America’s summer 2023 Free Expression Advocacy Institute in Los Angeles is an intensive, in-person, week-long, educational and training program where high school and college students (on two separate tracks) can learn the theories, laws, histories, and methodologies behind free expression advocacy. Our program includes presentations led by expert legal and policy practitioners from PEN America, interactive workshops designed to teach tangible skills, and TA-facilitated discussion sessions and activities to dive deeper into the issues with their peers. Participants cap their experiences by simulating advocacy campaign projects over the course of the Institute to present in the final closing session of the program. Students who successfully complete the program and attend all sessions will be granted a certificate of professional achievement in free expression advocacy from PEN America. This program is FREE and available to all high school and college students. Full attendance is required to receive a certificate. 


Topics Covered in Our Program: 

The First Amendment and its Limitations, Counter-Speech and Combating Hate, Freedom of the Press and the Local News Crisis, Media Literacy and Free Speech Online, Protest Rights and the Freedom of Assembly, Academic Freedom and Free Speech in Schools, Artistic Freedom Around the World, Pro Tips for Advocacy Campaigning, Free Speech and Mass Incarceration, Prisoners of Conscience Around the World, and more!


Advocacy Campaign Projects

Over the course of the Institute, students will be working in small groups to develop an advocacy campaign for a free expression issue of their choice. The issue can either be focused domestically in the United States or internationally. At the end of the program, students will present their advocacy campaigns to be assessed by a panel of PEN America staff. Students will have time during Institute sessions to work on and ask questions about their projects.

Photos and Testimonials from Graduates

"I've gotten more insight into how to organize and engage in protests, and even got some hands-on experience!"
"Learning from all the different people from different walks of life really made free expression rights become more real." Pictured: Ugandan filmmaker Achiro P. Olwoch
"I learned that there's a community within PEN America that's ready to support free speech and free expression, and that I can rely on PEN to support me ." Pictured: Visit to the Hannah Traore Gallery.
"I've learned that advocacy is an everyday thing... [and] that a little bit of research and self-information goes a long way." Pictured: Free speech activist Mary Beth Tinker.

Meet Our Institute Co-Directors:


headshot of Nicholas Perez

Nicholas “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. 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.



Peris Tushabe headshotPeris Tushabe is the free expression and education program coordinator at PEN America, supporting PEN America’s advocacy for free expression in educational institutions as well as the Free Expression Advocacy Institute. She earned her BA from Skidmore College in political science, minoring in French language studies. Born and raised in Uganda, she focused her research on youth movements in the country and the role that social media plays in pushing back against authoritarian governments. She has also served at the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum as a public programming assistant, and worked for candidate Tedra Cobb in her campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives. She is a proud member of Phi Sigma Alpha and Phi Beta Kappa, and continues to be interested in the ways young people can harness power to push for their rights and more democratic and free futures.


Frequently Asked Questions

Who is eligible to register?
The program is open to students in any year of high school or college.

Who should consider applying?
This Institute is also highly recommended for students pursuing academic and professional careers in activism, communications, humanities, journalism, and philosophy among other related subjects.

Do I have to attend all sessions?
Full attendance, participation, and project completion are required to receive a certificate of professional achievement from PEN America.

Can I participate virtually?
No. Students must be available to attend all meeting sessions in person.

How will I know if I’ve been admitted?
Once you submit your application for admission, you will receive an email confirmation with a copy of your form responses. On a rolling basis, we will reach out to admitted applicants with the next steps for enrollment.

How much does the program cost?
There is no cost to attend this program.

Will I receive any school credit for the Institute?
Neither high school nor college credit will be granted for completing the Institute unless otherwise determined by a sponsoring institution. PEN America will, however, award each student a certificate of professional achievement in free expression advocacy upon completion of the course and the program offers excellent preparation and a relevant credential for future internships and work opportunities in policy and advocacy. 

Will there be any homework assigned?
Background readings may be assigned that students are expected to complete before the start of each session. Throughout the program, students may be expected to work outside of instructional hours on research projects and assignments.

Who are the instructors?
The Institute administration is managed by Nicholas “Niko” Perez and Peris Tushabe from PEN America’s Free Expression and Education program. The weekly schedule includes presentations and workshops from a range of experts and professionals across PEN America’s staff, membership, and network, including well-known researchers, advocates, and authors.


If you have any other questions, please email us at [email protected].