MVS event focuses on free-speech protections on college campuses

JMU News

by Eric Gorton



American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Emerson Sykes will discuss the First Amendment on college campuses, focusing on the differences between public and private campuses, in a virtual Madison Vision Series event Wednesday, Sept. 30, beginning at 6 p.m.   

The event, co-hosted by James Madison University and Bridgewater College, will be livestreamed on JMU’s YouTube and Facebook channels, and on Bridgewater College’s YouTube channel. 

Sykes’ lecture will be followed by a discussion with JMU President Jonathan R. Alger and Bridgewater College President Dr. David W. Bushman, as well as a Q&A session with audience members. Roy F. Young II, president and CEO of James Madison’s Montpelier, will serve as moderator. 

Sykes is a staff attorney with the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, where he focuses on First Amendment free-speech protections. 

Before joining the ACLU in 2018, he was a legal adviser at the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law. He provided technical legal assistance and training to African civil society leaders, government officials, law students and other stakeholders to improve the legal framework protecting the freedom of association, assembly and expression. 

Sykes previously served as assistant general counsel to the New York City Council, where he worked to increase transparency for council members’ discretionary spending and contributed to the council’s friend-of-the-court brief against the New York Police Department’s “Stop and Frisk” program. 

In 2011, he was a senior policy fellow in the office of a member of Parliament in Ghana. 

Sykes previously conducted research and wrote about U.S. foreign policy for The Century Foundation, a progressive think tank, and worked for the National Democratic Institute’s Central and West Africa Team. 

He holds a law degree from the New York University School of Law, where he was a Root-Tilden-Kern scholar of public interest law, and a Master of Public Affairs degree from the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University. He earned his undergraduate degree in political science from Stanford University. 

The event is presented by the Madison Vision Series: Contemporary Issues in an Engaged Society, which honors James Madison’s conviction that cultivating an informed and educated citizenry is essential to the health of our republican democracy. The series brings scholars, thinkers and leaders of all kinds to campus for lively explorations of issues facing our society. 

Funding for the event is provided by Bridgewater College’s Harold H. Hersch Educational Fund and the Madison Vision Fund.




Media contact: Mary-Hope Vass, 540-568-7487 or

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Published: Thursday, September 24, 2020

Last Updated: Wednesday, November 1, 2023

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