Sydney Kate Watson, arts & living editor
On Monday, the COM 416 class will present “Freedom Sings: Celebrating the First Amendment,” an evening of music performances of banned songs as well as banned book readings in Frost Chapel. The event is not only a cultural event credit (CE), but is also an opportunity to reflect on the history and significance of the First Amendment and recognize the current conversation around the First Amendment.
Communications Department Chair Brian Carroll teaches media law, COM 416. The media law class will host the Freedom Sings event. Carroll gave his class the opportunity to choose their own midterm adventure, so to speak. Students in the class gravitated toward the idea of hosting an event Carroll had previously mentioned: Freedom Sings.
Freedom Sings was a week-long, grant sponsored event at Berry in 2009 with activities each night of the week that led up to a musical performance at Barnwell Chapel. Even though this semester’s CE Credit is a one evening event, Carroll said that it is time for this type of event to once again take place, and his media law students are the ones taking on the task.
“This one is our students just taking it on their own shoulders to will it into existence,” Carroll said.
The class divided itself into five different groups including music, books, research, marketing and steering, to serve as the project management team. According to the music team leader Lauren Chandler, junior, the event is truly student led.
“Dr. Carroll has been really, really helpful throughout all of [the planning process], but this is really put on by students; every single aspect has been chosen by the students,” Chandler said.
Promotions team leader, Teryn Ferrell, senior, agreed with Chandler that students have appreciated Carroll’s guidance, and the class has been filled with team building collaboration.
“Dr. Carroll loves checking in on us, so we all just have constant collaborative ideas going around, and it’s a really fun environment to work in,” Ferrell said.
According to Carroll, this year’s Freedom Sings is an opportunity to examine the history of the First Amendment through today’s lens.
“At a time when the First Amendment is being weaponized for all sorts of different political purposes, we want to celebrate the First Amendment at Berry, and to do that we’re blending expression with history,” Carroll said. “So, we’re looking into history to find episodes of censorship that today we regard as naive, authoritarian.”
Besides participating in democracy, reviewing the First Amendment offers clarity into the world in which Berry students exist. The very essence of higher education is rooted in the First Amendment, according to Carroll.
“College, university life is based on, predicated on, freedom of expression; we’re about ideas,” Carroll said. “So, this is a night that is meant to, not just draw attention to it, but celebrate it, enjoy to its fullest.”
The music and books presented at the event were all at one point banned but have since been declared “protected” under the First Amendment. While this shows the growth American society has undergone, it also calls for individuals to evaluate why the pieces were banned in the first place.
Having the opportunity to perform these works in a sacred place such as Frost Chapel supports its incredible significance, according to Ferrell.
“The biggest takeaway is to show that even though these banned books and music, at one point in time they were banned, we are now able to share them in Frost Chapel,” Ferrell said. “The fact that we’re able to have this event in a chapel shows that there is no reason for them to have ever been banned.”
While the banning of books has skyrocketed around the country, “Freedom Sings” presents an opportunity to reflect on history and ensures the protection of First Amendment rights.
“This event just reflects that idea of just talking about topics that may be hard to discuss, but need to be talked about, so that we can confront these ideas and make sure [unprecedented censorship] doesn’t happen again in the future,” Chandler said.
Due to the current route for the First Amendment, Carroll said it is imperative that each generation understands that they control the destiny of the First Amendment in their lives.
“I want them to have a sense of the First Amendment’s trajectory,” Carroll said. “The First Amendment has no grandchildren; every generation has to negotiate and decide what those 45 words in the First Amendment mean. Freedom Sings will inspire attendees to no longer be docile in regard to their First Amendment rights.
“I want people to come and see the First Amendment in historical context and in its contemporary fragility, and maybe walk away determined to protect, preserve, sure up and use their First Amendment freedoms,” Carroll said.
Carroll, Chandler and Ferrell each encouraged students to attend Freedom Sings to support community members, enjoy great music, reflect on history and celebrate the First Amendment.
“Hopefully, it’ll be a great night for Berry, it’ll be a great night for the First Amendment, and it’ll be a great night for arts, culture and their many expressions,” Carroll said.