Spring 2022 Free Speech Advocacy Institute Hero Image

PEN America’s Free Speech Advocacy Institute is a 15-week online education and training program that will provide students with a foundational understanding of free expression as a civil right and an ongoing contemporary topic of social and political conversation. Students will be introduced to a broad range of issues related to free expression at both the domestic and international levels, covering the First Amendment and free expression limitations established by the Supreme Court, as well as the history of free expression as a human right, and other modern issues related to the Internet, protest, political dissent, hate, and freedom of the press.

Dates: Thursdays, February 3–May 12, 2022

Time: 4:15pm–6:30pm ET

Cost: $1000
*financial aid available

The Knight Foundation is an official sponsor of PEN America’s Free Speech Advocacy Institute for 2020-21.

Knight Foundation logo

Apply for the Free Speech Advocacy Institute!

Admissions and aid will be decided on a rolling basis through January 16.

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

Our spring course will be driven by stories and presentations delivered by PEN America’s in-house experts as well as writers, artists, journalists, and activists from our global membership network who dare to use free expression as a tool for social justice in confronting authority figures and speaking truth to power. The course will be broadly interdisciplinary, featuring lectures, panels, seminars, research projects, and a final group simulation activity centered around designing a free expression advocacy campaign on an issue of the students’ choice.

Freedom To Write Cards Photo Credit Joshua Krause Hp Photography

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
  • Writers at Risk Around the World

Past Guest Speakers

Suzanne Nossel

Suzanne Nossel

CEO of PEN America, Nossel has served in leadership positions throughout the U.S. government and across the advocacy sector.
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Jennifer Egan

Jennifer Egan

Former president of PEN America, Egan is a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer who has served on the board of PEN America since 2012.
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Masha Gessen

Masha Gessen

An acclaimed journalist and author of ten books, Gessen serves as vice president of PEN America and is an outspoken critic of authoritarianism globally.
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Polina Sadovskaya

Polina Sadovskaya

PEN America’s Eurasia program director on the Free Expression Programs team, Sadovskaya formerly worked with UNESCO on free expression and media development and is an active member of the IFEX Council.
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Summer Lopez

Summer Lopez

Senior director of free expression programs at PEN America, Lopez has experience in government and NGOs promoting democracy and human rights in the U.S. and abroad.
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Gregory Pardlo

Gregory Pardlo

A Pulitzer Prize winner for poetry, Pardlo serves on the Board of PEN America and is a professor of English at Rutgers University, where he also co-directs the Institute for the Study of Global Racial Justice.
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Neijma Celestine-Donnor

Neijma Celestine-Donnor

Assistant dean for diversity, equity, and inclusion at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, Celestine-Donnor is a licensed clinical social work supervisor with years of experience in trauma services.
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Julie Trébault

Julie Trébault

Director of PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection, Trébault is a highly respected leader in the art world who defends artists at risk worldwide.
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Institute Staff

Jonathan Friedman

Jonathan Friedman

Director of PEN America’s Free Speech Advocacy Institute, Friedman is an expert in U.S. higher education with over a decade of experience teaching at the college level.
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Nicholas Perez

Nicholas Perez

Co-director of PEN America’s Free Speech Advocacy Institute, Perez is a former U.N. human rights educator and high school instructor of international affairs, public speaking, and Model U.N.
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Peris Tushabe

Peris Tushabe

Teaching Assistant of PEN America’s Free Speech Advocacy Institute, Tushabe is a graduate of Skidmore College in political science, born and raised in Uganda.
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Student Testimonials

“The most valuable thing I learned was that I am capable of making a difference in the lives of imprisoned writers. I had no idea that scope of censorship could happen in the world, and it empowered me as a writer to work to aid those who have had their voices silenced.”

“When I first started the Institute, I was overwhelmed at the thought of free expression advocacy, and I didn’t know how I’d go about becoming a free expression activist. However, by the end of the Institute, I learned that advocacy, while important and only achieved by hard work, is something that anyone can do if they believe in their cause enough and are willing to put in the effort.”

“I have a better sense now of the career paths available to me. I gained the requisite diction to engage with nonprofits and governmental bodies on these topics, which is invaluable.”


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?
The Institute is ideal for students interested in pursuing academic and professional careers in the humanities, human rights, journalism, international affairs, law, political science, and the social sciences.

Do I have to be American to participate?
No. The Institute will be accessible to students anywhere in the world, via Zoom, and taught in English. Students must be available to attend all meeting sessions, which are listed in Eastern Time.

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.

Is there financial aid available?
Yes. PEN America awards need-based financial aid ranging from $250 to $1,000 to be put toward the total cost of attendance ($1,000).

Will I receive any school credit for the Institute?
PEN America will award each student a Certificate of Professional Achievement in Free Speech Advocacy upon completion of the course. The program will offer excellent preparation and a relevant credential for future internships and work opportunities in the policy and advocacy realm. Neither high school nor college credit will be granted for completing the Institute unless otherwise determined by a sponsoring institution.

Will there be any homework assigned?
Background readings will be assigned that students are expected to complete before the start of each session. These readings will serve as the basis for each day’s discussion session. In the second half of the program, students will be expected to collaborate outside of instructional hours on their free speech advocacy campaigns.

What supplies do I need to attend the Institute?
To participate in the Institute, students must have a working computer, a reliable internet connection, an email address through which they can access Google Classroom, and a Zoom account, which can be set up for free online. A notebook to write in as well as some writing utensils are also recommended for note-taking, and a printer is optional for printing out the reading materials for annotating.

Who are the instructors?
The Institute is directed by Jonathan Friedman and Nicholas “Niko” Perez, and supported by Teaching Assistant Peris Tushabe. The daily schedule will include presentations from a wide range of experts and professionals across PEN America, including seasoned researchers, advocates, attorneys, and campaigners.

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