Emerson placed on FIRE’s ‘Top Ten Worst Colleges for Free Expression’ 2022 list


Courtesy/Izzy Desmarais

FIRE’s “Truck of Shame” advertising its 2022 “Top Ten Worst Colleges for Free Expression” list around Emerson’s campus.

By Adri Pray and Frankie Rowley

An educational advocacy group named Emerson as one of the “worst colleges for free expression,” rooted in its accusation that the college “censored” members of its Turning Point USA chapter. 

The college was included in a list of ten colleges and universities published by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education on Feb. 3. FIRE also launched an advertising campaign last month—headlined by the self-dubbed “Truck of Shame”—targeting Emerson for its treatment of TPUSA. The chapter was temporarily suspended last semester following allegations that its promotional material included anti-Chinese rhetoric. 

The list also includes institutions like Stanford University, the University of Florida, and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill––all of which were embroiled in controversies surrounding “free speech.” Yale University earned the “Lifetime Censorship Award.”

Emerson’s placement on the list stemmed from the disciplinary action taken against TPUSA, which experienced a brief suspension from on-campus activities in October. 

“When institutions of higher education make promises to their students of free expression, they should live up to those promises,” wrote Graham Piro, a spokesperson for the organization in an email response to The Beacon. “Emerson did not.”

TPUSA ultimately received a warning from Emerson’s office of Student Engagement & Leadership. According to Piro, these actions mean that the chapter is now forced to “effectively walk on eggshells for an indeterminate amount of time.” 

Piro also claimed that the college “hid” tweets of Winnie the Pooh—a symbol used by Chinese dissidents to satirize their leader, Xi Jinping—following a surge in publicity after FIRE began its advertising campaign. 

Interim President Bill Gilligan declined to comment on the accusations. 

FIRE has attempted to contact the college for several months, Piro said, without any response. 

He added that FIRE’s goal is for the college to “finally stand by its promises of free expression,” and to expunge TPUSA’s record.

As soon as Emerson clears the student group’s record, we won’t have anything to criticize—provided they haven’t censored the voices of any other Emerson students by then,” he wrote. “All students should be alarmed when unpopular viewpoints are silenced, even if they vehemently disagree with those viewpoints.”

Emerson’s TPUSA chapter did not respond to The Beacon’s requests for comment.