On the morning of Sept. 17, students from Media, Communications, and Journalism (MCJ) department set up tables and propped signs on the grassy area by the Kennel Bookstore. They brought flashcards, spinning wheels, and a blue backdrop with the logo of the Institute for Media and Public Trust. La Imperial taco truck came by and parked on the pathway. A well known black-spotted dinosaur mascot held a sign: “I’m extinct, but your 1st Amendment rights aren’t.”
By 11 a.m., the students were ready to receive curious passersby for their event “Let’s Taco ‘Bout It!” on the First Amendment and the five freedoms. Participants were asked to spin a wheel numbered 1-5, and wherever the arrow landed on, they would head to that table to learn about a specific freedom. After playing a game with the MCJ students, the participants received tickets to redeem free tacos. The area quickly became lively as the line for tacos grew long, and banned or censored music pulsed loudly.
“I loved this event!” exclaimed Dr. Honora Chapman, interim dean of the College of Arts and Humanities. “Interactive, educational, and entertaining, this outdoor fair really engaged visitors in thinking hard about their 1st Amendment freedoms. What could be better than celebrating our Constitutional freedoms and eating free tacos, too?”
The event was held on Constitution Day, a nation-wide celebration of the signing of the U.S. Constitution, and was a part of the Leon S. Peters Ethics Lecture Series. Different activist, political, and community groups were present alongside the Fresno County Clerk/Elections Office and League of Women Voters.
Dr. Nancy VanLeuven, assistant professor in the MCJ department, explained how this event came together. “Last spring, Jim Boren saw a grant for [Public Relations] classes to use the First Amendment as a client and create a [Public Relations] plan.”
Dr. VanLeuven brought it to her classes, Introduction to Public Relations (PR) and Introduction to Advertising, and her students got to work. They created a PR campaign and strategies to engage students about the First Amendment. They surveyed their fellow peers, gathered data and research on the common misconceptions and misunderstandings on the First Amendment, and created media strategies. This project was led by Jim Boren, Dr. VanLeuven, and Dr. Bradly Hart, a faculty member in the MCJ department.
Dr. VanLeuven’s students then came up with the activities — deciding where to put the tables, what props were needed, as well as how to administer tickets for tacos. They decided to run social media messaging and also record the proceedings.
Overall, the students wanted to emphasize all five freedoms covered in the First Amendment; freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and the freedom of petition.
The freedom of the Press table, manned by Paola Avila, consisted of 20 headlines. Participants had to decide which ones were real and which ones were fake. Headlines ranged from “Fish Leaps from River, Knocks Fla. Teen Unconscious,” to “Stranger Things cast is Quitting after its Third Season,” and “Stray Chihuahuas terrorize Arizona town, chase children, run wild.”
Absurdity was often a strong marker of a fake headline. Avila commented, “They’re pretty crazy, so we tell the students to trust their guts.”
At the Freedom of Religion table, different religious symbols were presented and allowed participants to learn about them.
At the Freedom of Assembly table, the activity was set up beer-pong style. Blue cups were placed at the end of a long table and formed a triangle. Flashcards with trivia questions were placed underneath each cup. Participants played against each other by attempting to sink a ball into a cup to determine which flashcard question would be used to quiz their opponent.
Jannah Geraldo, who was at the Freedom of Speech table, discussed with participants about what speech was protected and not protected under the First Amendment. Their mini-game consisted of putting flashcards with different kinds of speech in two separate piles–protected and not protected–and then Geraldo would check if it’s correct and discuss them.
For the Freedom of Petition table, they set up a blank poster board and provided sticky notes for participants, asking people to write down topics for which they would like to urge the government to act.
Chris Langer, a librarian from Henry Madden Library, had a table with challenged and banned books from 2018. This occurred when a parent or school board member brought a complaint to their school or library that the contents shouldn’t be in the library for students to check out. In front of him was the “Captain Underpants” series, “George” by Alex Gino, “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas, “Thirteen Reasons Why” by Jay Asher and several more.
Brittany Elsome, one of the team leaders, remarked proudly, “This is the first event I’ve ever gotten to help plan and be a part of, so I’m very excited at how well it turned out.”
She had been assigned to go into the Introduction to PR classes to get feedback and advice for their planned event. She also handled promotion of the event via social media.
“We got good music playing, we got a lot of students involved, and it seems like everyone’s pretty happy about it.”
Dr. VanLeuven credited the overall successful and fun event to the students and their hard work, stating that “Every single decision was theirs.”
The students collaborated and decided on everything about the event, building it from the ground up and making sure everything ran smoothly. In the end, they were able to build a successful event while having a good time and educating other students on the importance of the First Amendment.