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Martin Hall Agency students promote First Amendment on campus

Written by Danny Spetz, public relations student

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Capstone students in Martin Hall Agency, the College’s student-run advertising and public relations firm, launched a campaign in an effort to educate the campus community on the specifics of the First Amendment and to show students how the amendment influences daily life.

“The First Amendment affects and is intended for everyone, not just a particular group or political party,” says Emma Magruder, a junior public relations student who played an integral part in the MHA campaign. “There are attacks on the five protections of the amendment, and people need to be aware of them.”

American flag hangs up-side-down in Martin Hall as a distress signal

A flag hangs upside down covering the First Amendment mural inside of Martin Hall.

On Dec. 1, the students hung fliers around campus announcing the censorship of certain music, historic and literary figures. They also covered the First Amendment mural in Martin Hall with by an upside-down American flag as a signal of distress and put chains around newspapers, all in an effort to get students to think about what their lives would look like without the rights guaranteed in the First Amendment.

On Dec. 3, the students finished their campaign with a mock closure of the Free Speech Zone, an area outside the Mountainlair commonly used for demonstrations and protests. The event garnered attention from students and faculty walking between classes and, as designed, led to several discussions.

MHA demonstration in Free Speech Zone

“People are definitely paying attention. People were stopping and asking us what was going on and why we were in the Free Speech Zone,” said Maleri Tustin, a junior public relations student. “Some people were outraged and wanted answers from us immediately. What we wanted was for people to at least talk to each other and they did, so that’s all we can ask for.”

The campaign was part of a semester-long project sponsored by the Free Speech Center at Middle Tennessee State University’s 1 for All initiative, an educational effort to build understanding of the First Amendment on college campuses. The project began on Constitution Day - Sept. 25, with research into what West Virginia University students know, think and feel about the First Amendment and culminated with the campaign intended to get students thinking about the First Amendment’s role in their lives.

Martin Hall Agency’s effort to support and promote the First Amendment will continue into the spring 2022 semester as a new team takes on the account. For more information on the overall effort visit the 1 for All page on the Free Speech Center’s website. This campaign is part of a broader, joint effort between the Reed College of Media and the College of Law titled “A Year of Reckoning,” and will conclude with an in-person panel in September 2022.

Other MHA Fall 2021 Campaigns include: