Foundation Individual Rights Education Essay Contest

By Peter Bonilla September 6, 2017

As we kick off the new school year, FIRE is delighted to announce the return of our Free Speech Essay Contest! Open to high school juniors and seniors, our essay contest asks students to write about the importance of freedom of speech both to higher education and society at large, using FIRE’s videos and other available materials to guide them. FIRE will award a total of $20,000 in college scholarship funds to the winners of the contest, including a $10,000 first prize.

The return of FIRE’s essay contest could not be more timely, as free speech in higher education has become an increasingly urgent and contentious national issue. It is more important than ever that high school students have an understanding of the importance of free speech before they head to college so that they are prepared to defend themselves against censorship when they arrive.

FIRE will award one $10,000 first prize, one $5,000 second prize, and three $1,000 runner-up prizes for the best essays. Four $500 winners will be chosen from the remaining entrants in a drawing.

This year’s essay contest asks students to explain why free speech is so important to higher education, and why censorship undermines the ideals of liberal education and a free society.

Further information for entrants is available below.  

Who is eligible to enter the essay contest?

The contest is open to juniors and seniors in U.S. high schools (graduating in 2018 or 2019), including home-schooled students, as well as U.S. citizens attending schools overseas. Additional questions regarding eligibility may be emailed to essaycontest@thefire.org.

What is the deadline for entering?

The deadline for submissions is 11:59 P.M. on December 31, 2017. Winners will be announced by January 31, 2018.

What FIRE materials should I use to prepare my essay?

We ask that entrants watch two FIRE videos—about Williams College student Zach Wood’s fight for open discourse and a University of Cincinnati student’s fight to rid his institution of so-called “free speech zones”—to inform their answers to our essay prompt.

What is the essay prompt?

In 800-1,000 words, explain why free speech is so important to higher education, and why censorship undermines the ideals of liberal education and a free society.

Can we use any of FIRE’s other materials in addition to those videos?

Sure! FIRE maintains a wealth of information for students at no cost to them. These include our ever-expanding First Amendment Library, our daily Newsdesk, our active FIRE Student Network, and numerous publications including our comprehensive “Guide to Free Speech on Campus.” Feel free to educate yourself using any of these resources as you prepare your essays.  

What are the scholarship prizes, and how many winners will be selected?

FIRE will award one $10,000 first prize, one $5,000 second prize, and three $1,000 runner-up prizes for the best essays. Four $500 winners will be chosen from the remaining entrants in a drawing.

Where should I send my essay?

Essays must be submitted through the form on the contest page, thefire.org/contest.

I’d like to know more about FIRE’s work defending free speech. Any suggestions?

Absolutely! To start, we encourage all interested students to join the FIRE Student Network to stay connected with FIRE and learn more about the work being done by their fellow students defending free speech at colleges and universities across the country.

Any additional questions regarding the essay contest can be directed to FIRE via email at essaycontest@thefire.org. Good luck in the new school year, and we look forward to reading your essays!

By Emily Buck November 26, 2013

When applying to colleges, it’s important for high school students to learn about the extent to which their First Amendment rights will be respected or restricted at different schools. FIRE’s essay contest aims to teach high school students about their rights while giving them the opportunity to win thousands of dollars in scholarships!

To enter, high school juniors and seniors should watch two FIRE videos—Silencing U: Five Outrageous Cases of Campus Censorship and What Every Student Should Know Before Starting College—and write an essay answering the question: “Why is free speech important at our nation’s colleges and universities?” Essays are due January 1, 2014.

To view the full contest rules and entry form, visit thefire.org/contest and email essaycontest@thefire.org with any questions. We look forward to your entry!

Essay Contest FAQ

Who can enter the essay contest?

Current high school juniors graduating in 2015 and high school seniors graduating in 2014 who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents and plan to attend college are eligible to submit an essay for consideration.

What is the deadline for entering?

Deadline for submissions is January 1, 2014. Winners will be announced by January 31, 2014.

What is the essay question?

Why is free speech important at our nation’s colleges and universities? Using examples from bothvideos, discuss how censorship of student speech is incompatible with higher education. Your essay should be 800–1,000 words and should stay on topic.

How much is the winning scholarship award?

First Place: $10,000 college scholarship

Second Place: $5,000 college scholarship

(3) Third Place Awards: $1,000 college scholarship each

(4) Runners-up chosen by lottery: $500 college scholarship each

Where should I send my essay?

Essays can be submitted on the contest page: thefire.org/contest

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