In the midst of an unprecedented level of controversy and activism on college campuses across the United States, the University of California Irvine (UCI) created the National Center for Free Speech and Civic Engagement (the Center) to serve as a leading researcher and facilitator of critical free speech issues. Recognizing the need for thoughtful, constructive dialogue around the First Amendment and its impact on campus, the press, the Internet and beyond, the Center enlisted the Glen Echo Group to brand, organize, publicize and execute its inaugural conference on campus free speech in the spring of 2019.
The conference, #SpeechMatters: The Future of Free Expression on Campus, emphasized the pervasiveness of speech in every aspect of our lives and our democracy. We designed and developed the event to achieve two primary objectives: 1) to establish the Center as the go-to organization on all things free speech; and, 2) to convene press, policymakers, advocates and students to engage on issues of free expression and civic engagement in order to set the stage for future UCI research and advocacy, collaboration and continued dialogue.
To promote the Center to D.C. thought leaders, the Glen Echo Group created a compelling, fully branded event experience. Every aspect of the event—from the overall messaging, logo, web and collateral design to the staging, signage and merchandising—incorporated the thoughtfully designed #SpeechMatters brand that set the stage for the day’s crucial conversations and created a lasting impression to live beyond the event itself.
Working closely with the Center, the Glen Echo Group created a day of panels and lightning talks featuring speakers from academia, the media, government and advocacy. In addition to the larger, public event, the Glen Echo Group worked with the Center to facilitate a separate, intimate dialogue among 34 students representing all 10 University of California campuses and the Center’s inaugural Fellowship class to discuss the current state of free expression and to explore ideas on what can be done to preserve and protect it in the future.
Hosted at the University of California’s Washington Center in the heart of Washington, D.C. on what could not have been a more timely day considering the White House released an executive order on higher education that very afternoon, the conference effectively engaged press, policymakers, opinion-shapers and influential academics from across the country. Former Governor of Arizona, Department of Homeland Security Secretary and current UC President Janet Napolitano keynoted the event, moderated an all-female panel on the impact of the First Amendment and speech in the digital era as well as a one-on-one fireside chat with Assistant Attorney General for the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division Eric Dreiband. #SpeechMatters’ list of distinguished speakers included prominent journalists from NPR, The New York Times and The Washington Post, executives from Facebook and Twitter, advocacy group leaders from organizations like the Dangerous Speech Project and Feminist Majority Foundation along with influential academics representing UC Irvine, American University, UC Berkeley, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, UCLA, Purdue University and UC Santa Barbara.
With nearly 200 attendees, the event boasted standing-room-only crowds and nearly 450 live stream viewers from across the United States. The #SpeechMatters hashtag trended throughout the day in Washington, D.C. and the conference was covered in a range of publications from POLITICO and Arizona PBS to UCI News and The Daily Californian.
The inaugural #SpeechMatters event was so successful that it has since become an annual occurrence. We hosted #SpeechMatters 2020: Participation and Protest on Campus in February of 2020. Over 230 people attended the half-day conference in person, and nearly 600 tuned in to the live stream.