Free Speech Summer Advocacy Institute

PEN America works at the forefront of defending free speech and the freedom to write in the United States and around the world.

Join us for the PEN America Summer Free Speech Advocacy Institute. Designed for talented and ambitious high school and college students, the Institute will equip students to become forceful advocates for free speech and civil liberties, on campus and beyond. PEN America will offer two tracks: one for students entering grades 10-12, another for rising and current college students. Each track will offer a crash course in combating major threats to free speech, such as censorship, harassment, and disinformation.

APPLY NOW

Offered virtually on weekdays from July 20 to July 31 from 1pm to 5pm EDT, the daily schedule will include conversations, presentations, and skills training sessions led by expert legal and policy practitioners from PEN America. The Institute will include intensive, small-group discussion sessions, and participants will cap their experience by working in small groups to design and present a free speech advocacy campaign of their own. Students who successfully complete the program will be granted a certificate of professional achievement in free speech advocacy from PEN America. Apply now.

Featured Experts


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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

President of PEN America, Egan is a Pultizer-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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Nora Benavidez

Nora Benavidez

PEN America's director of U.S. free expression programs, Benavidez is a former civil and human rights litigator with extensive experience in free expression issues nationally.
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Christina Wocintechchat Com LqPLmYD MO8 Unsplash

Skills Training Will Include

  • Essential Elements of an Advocacy Campaign
  • Media Literacy for Research and Academic Writing
  • The Right Words: Advocacy Messaging for Impact
  • Retweet That: Galvanizing Your Cause on Social Media
  • Welcome to Capitol Hill: Advocacy in Washington D.C.
  • Raising Your Placard: Campaigning at the United Nations
  • Grant Prospecting and Fundraising for Nonprofits
  • Public Programming and Event Curation
Campus Free Speech Project Featured Image Photo Creidt Jasmina Tomic

Session Topics

  • The First Amendment and Its Limitations
  • Free Expression in Retreat Worldwide
  • Inequality, Injustice, and the Power of Speech
  • Protest, Civil Disobedience, and Civic Engagement
  • Press Freedom and Local News in the Age of Trump
  • Defending Artistic Freedom
  • Disinformation and the Fight for Truth Online
  • Campus For All: Academic Freedom and the University
  • Counter-Speech: Speaking Out Against Hate

Institute Staff


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Jonathan Friedman

Jonathan Friedman

Director of PEN America's Free Speech Advocacy Institute, Dr. 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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Margaret Flynn Sapia

Margaret Flynn Sapia

Flynn Sapia is the advocacy coordinator at PEN America’s Washington, DC office and has worked at a number of human rights and free speech organizations in the U.S. and abroad.
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Veronica Tien

Veronica Tien

Tien supports PEN America's free expression programs, including in the Freedom to Write Index and the Writers at Risk Database, and formerly worked as a legal assistant at a criminal defense law firm.
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Guest Speakers


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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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Thomas Melia

Thomas Melia

PEN America's Washington director, Melia has held senior posts in the State Department and at USAID, as well as at numerous NGOs and nonprofits.
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Neijma Celestine-Donnor

Neijma Celestine-Donnor

The director for bias incident support services at the University of Maryland, 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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Apply Now for the Summer Free Speech Institute

Applications are now open. Completed applications and financial aid forms are due at 11:59pm EDT on Tuesday, June 23. 

The full cost of the program is $1,000, though full and partial fee waivers are available for students with demonstrated need. Students can fill out a financial aid application form here. Applications must be submitted no later than June 23. Email questions to [email protected]. The Summer Free Speech Advocacy Institute is part of PEN America’s Campus Free Speech Program.


Sample Daily Schedule
1:00pm – 2:15pm Topic: “Free Expression in Retreat Worldwide”
Amid global retrenchment on human rights and fundamental freedoms—deepening authoritarianism in Russia, China, and much of the Middle East; democratic retreat in parts of Eastern Europe, Latin America, and Asia; and new threats in established democracies in North America and Western Europe—the brave individuals who speak out, challenge tyranny, and make the intellectual case for freedom are on the front line of the battle to keep societies open, defend the truth, and resist repression. We will discuss the cases of select writers, journalists, and intellectuals under threat across the globe, as well as take stock of the state of free expression as a global human right today.

2:30pm – 3:30pm Skill Training: “The Right Words: Advocacy Messaging for Impact”
When advocating for free speech, how can we best frame messages to the media to generate the most impact? In this session, PEN America’s director of communications will discuss effective methods for targeting the media in campaigns, and share best practices for impactful communications in press releases, advocacy letters, and other written products.

3:45pm – 5:00pm Small Group Session: Discussion and Group Project Time
Led by a PEN America facilitator, students will discuss the day’s topic in small groups, collaborate on the development of their advocacy campaign, and have opportunities to engage in guided simulation and debate.

Background Readings:


Frequently Asked Questions
Who is eligible to register?
The Institute is open to all high school students and college students ages 16-24. There are two separate tracks. The high school track is for students entering grades 10-12, and the college track is for rising and current college students, as well as college graduates from the class of 2020.

Who should consider applying?
The Institute is ideal for high school and college 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 the 10 meeting sessions from 1pm to 5pm 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. Applications are due by June 23, and admissions decisions will be emailed to students by June 29. Tuition will be due in full by July 6.

Is there financial aid available?
Yes. PEN America is awarding need-based financial aid ranging from $250 to $1,000 to be put toward the total cost of attendance ($1,000). To apply, students must explain their financial need via our financial aid application form, which must be submitted alongside with the application for admission. Financial award results will be announced alongside admissions results by June 29.

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.

Will there be any homework assigned?
Background readings will be assigned that students are expected to complete before the start of each day of instruction. These readings will serve as the basis for each day’s discussion session. Students will have time allotted for project work in-session with potential to collaborate outside of instruction hours if necessary.

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 Drive, 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. The daily schedule will include presentations from a wide range of experts and professionals across PEN America, including seasoned researchers, advocates, attorneys, and campaigners. Students will also be grouped in discussion sessions led by facilitators from PEN America.

What will students do for the advocacy campaign project?
Students will work in small groups to select an advocacy issue and develop a unique campaign, applying the skills learned through the Institute. The program will culminate in a showcase where proposed free speech campaigns are presented and evaluated by judges, with the best featured on the PEN America website, pen.org.