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Isadore Johnson’s journey as a campus activist for free speech

Isadore Johnson tells us about his experience as an advocate for freedom of expression on campus at the University of Connecticut.

Isadore Johnson is an economics and philosophy student at the University of Connecticut. Hailing from Greenwich, CT, Isadore serves as regional coordinator with Students For Liberty. Here, he tells us about his experience as an advocate for freedom of expression at UConn, and about what liberty means to him.

Liberty means having the freedom to do and say what one wants without being hampered by restraints. It means choosing things that make me happy, without harming people.”

“I want people to do their own thing without stepping on the toes of others. As a contrarian, I want to be able to challenge orthodoxy and look for new ways to do things. Liberty is one the main drivers to make that possible.”

Isadore’s interest in the ideas of liberty that eventually led him to get involved with Students For Liberty began by watching videos online.

“I first became interested in the ideas of liberty through watching Marginal Revolution videos on YouTube. That got me interested in free trade and I began to read the economists that wrote for the website. I always liked free speech as an idea and valued broad expressive freedom. Growing up with the Snowden story was a big deal, and I paid a lot of attention to it. All of that has been an inspiration for me and led me to join Students For Liberty when I got to campus.”

For Isadore Johnson, the University of Connecticut, like many college campuses across the country, had a campus culture that was far too comfortable with shutting down ideas and free speech. As such, he set out on a mission to convince UConn to commit to defending free expression.

“Starting my sophomore year, I decided to try to get the University of Connecticut to adopt the ‘Chicago Statement,’ a robust defense of free expression on campus. I wrote a few articles in support of it and organized a mini protest to convince the university president it was worthwhile. I was noticing a culture on campus that was far too comfortable with shutting down ideas and free speech that they were uncomfortable with.”

“The school told me UConn had already released a statement supporting free speech. It was okay, but offered a poor defense of students being able to challenge ideas or bring speakers in. That has led to a lot of tension since then.”

“Two semesters ago, one of my friends was planning on running for student body president. I asked him to make the free speech statement a part of his campaign – he was interested and wanted to call it the ‘UConn Statement.’ When he won, we were excited about what was next. At the same time, we got another SFL member into student government.”

After Isadore’s friend won the election, he felt that progress was finally being made on the issue of freedom of expression, but some issues would soon arise.

“Soon enough, my friend got in trouble for commenting that the Black Lives Matter organization was not representative of the whole Black community – he spoke about Sen. Tim Scott and Justice Clarence Thomas as examples – and he was removed from student government for two months. I wanted to get to the bottom of the reason this happened.”

“The chief diversity officer was apparently behind it. That role includes the power to censor or remove people from student government for things others didn’t want to hear.”

Isadore, writing in his campus newspaper, spoke up about private meetings being held by members of the student government seeking to quash the campaign for freedom of expression on campus.

“I revealed that our student government was having private meetings to kick out the student body president for endorsing free speech material I helped with.”

“That revelation received a good deal of backlash, and we knew we needed to increase our free speech activism on campus. We got 200 students and faculty to sign a petition supporting our free speech statement. Our SFL chapter organized a week of events around free speech: we hosted a Philosophy Society debate on the topic, had a Braver Angels debate about deplatforming, and several other speaking events. We got a lot of people to attend these events – especially people who weren’t necessarily aligned or sympathetic.”

“Meanwhile, the student government’s governing board voted ‘no confidence’ in the student body president. That was disappointing, but our campaign wasn’t over. Despite the pushback, there have been many arguments back and forth. It’s not a one-sided argument anymore and there’s no consensus. We’re thinking about free speech and it’s on people’s minds. It’s a step in the right direction.”

Despite continued opposition from the student government, Isadore Johnson and his SFL chapter were able to make inroads with their activism by challenging hypocrisy and raising awareness of the importance of free speech.

“I wouldn’t consider my activism a case of simply winning or losing. My SFL chapter and I made progress in shining a light on the hypocrisy that our peers regularly display when talking about issues like freedom of speech. There’s a sense of catharsis that comes from standing up for something you know is right and acting as a whistleblower.”

Ultimately, Isadore has derived great value from his journey with Students For Liberty and appreciates the opportunities he enjoys to develop as a leader and help build a community of dedicated pro-liberty activists.

“I really enjoy being involved in SFL. Knowing that I can get other students into a program that helps give them access to mentors, thought leaders, and an open set of perspectives is something I cherish. I love being a regional coordinator and checking in on the various chapters because I like to know that I’m working to build a better community of people. It helps to know I have an organization that supports the same principles that I do.”

This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organization as a whole. Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions.



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