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Free Expression and Education

The Issue

Educational institutions play an essential role in sustaining democracy. They serve as crucibles of ideas, dialogue, and debate, committed to educating the rising generation as well as forwarding the pursuit of knowledge and truth. But amid rising polarization in the United States and around the world, educational institutions have become a site of conflict and challenge, particularly when it comes to the bedrock values of free speech and diversity, equity, and inclusion, and perceived tensions among them.

PEN America’s free expression and education program works to reconcile these tensions by working with schools, colleges, and universities to ensure robust protections for academic freedom and freedom of speech are balanced with advancements in diversity and inclusion, as well efforts to redress legacies of discrimination and inequity. Our team of experts engage in research, advocacy, trainings, public events, and youth programming, and we have developed specialized resources for college administrators, faculty, and students.

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Book Bans

Today, book bans in the U.S. are under profound attack. They are disappearing from library shelves, being challenged in droves, being decreed off-limits by school boards, legislators, and prison authorities. And everywhere, it is the books that have long fought for a place on the shelf that are being targeted. Books by authors of color, by LGBTQ+ authors, by women. Books about racism, sexuality, gender, history. PEN America pushes back against the banning of books and the intolerance, exclusion, and censorship which undergirds it.


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Educational Censorship

PEN America is a national leader in fighting educational censorship in both higher ed and K-12. Our signature campaign against educational gag orders — legislative restrictions on the freedom to learn and teach that have swept the country since January 2021 — has generated media coverage in over a hundred publications. We will continue to expand our work to defend students and teachers against legislative infringements on free expression in the classroom.


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Campus Free Speech

Free speech has become a flashpoint for controversy on campuses across the U.S. We believe that for a campus to be open to all ideas, it must be genuinely open to all people, including those from less traditional backgrounds and those from previously excluded groups. In our trainings for university faculty and staff, and in our advocacy for free speech and academic freedom, we encourage campuses to robustly defend free speech and open inquiry at the same time that they advance principles of diversity and inclusion and address lingering legacies of discrimination.


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Next Gen PEN America

PEN America is committed to empowering a new generation of free expression advocates and building a youth advocacy network that can work together to facilitate positive change. We regularly invite students to support and engage in our national and international advocacy efforts, and actively seek ways to amplify and encourage students’ own free expression advocacy projects.