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MHA students kick-off year of First Amendment events

MHA Students on First Amendment Day

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution contains freedoms of religion, speech, press, assembly and petition — but not everyone can name those five rights and how they affect their daily lives.

As part of this year’s First Amendment Day, which occurs annually on September 25, West Virginia University Reed College of Media students in Martin Hall Agency (MHA) gathered information about WVU students’ knowledge of the amendment and how they felt about their rights on campus.

“We chose interviews because we wanted to get the most immediate assessment of what the student body knows and thinks about the First Amendment,” explained College of Media senior Abigail Riggs. “We felt by interviewing people on the spot, we would get the most authentic answers." 

MHA is a faculty-led, student-run integrated communications capstone course, in which students provide pro bono advertising and public relations work for West Virginia nonprofits and small businesses. Associate Professor Geah Pressgrove and Visiting Professor Chuck Borghese lead the class and student teams. This semester, one of MHA’s projects stems from a grant from the Free Speech Center at Middle Tennessee State University, for their “client” – the First Amendment.

As stipulated in the grant, the goal of the project is to create a campaign to raise awareness of First Amendment freedoms and engage students on campus on the topic. In addition to the MHA project, the College of Media is facilitating First Amendment awareness through a series of events titled “Year of Reckoning.”

“Any campaign or event should begin with preliminary research, which is something we instill in our students from the get-go,” Pressgrove said. “The ‘Year of Reckoning’ events are no different. It’s exciting for students to be a part of a college-wide initiative and to be performing research that will help determine what kinds of events will best appeal to the target audiences.” 

MHA students conducted campus interviews during WVUp All Night, a student-centered event held on Saturdays at the Mountainlair, and were also located at various high-traffic areas around campus throughout the week. 

“We were not surprised that the freedom of speech was the most frequently identified when we asked what the five freedoms of the First Amendment were,” said Riggs. “However, the student response has put into perspective how much education is needed on campus about the First Amendment. It is exciting to think our team has the opportunity to develop such an important campaign.”

The first main event in the “Year of Reckoning” series is set for Wednesday November 3, 2021. The College will host the panel event, “Who Informs the Citizenry: Finding Trust and Truth in a Fractured Age,” at the Media Innovation Center. Panelists include Ellen Clegg, retired editorial page editor of the Boston Globe; Kristine Villaneuva, project editor for Equally Informed; Paulette Brown-Hinds, founder of Voice Media Ventures; and Brian Castrucci, president and chief executive officer of the de Beaumont Foundation.

The “Year of Reckoning” First Amendment event series will culminate with an in-person panel in September 2022.