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Widely known free speech activist Mary Beth Tinker talked to Missouri Western students and faculty on Monday, Feb. 19 about the importance of free speech and understanding citizen’s own constitutional rights. 

In 1969, Tinker and her brother John, along with three other students, wore black armbands around their arms to protest the Vietnam War. Their school administration said the students had to take their armbands off and could not wear them. Tinker, her brother and three others students were suspended as a result of the armbands.

This resulted in the famous Tinker vs. Des Moines case that settled students and teachers do not lose their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the school gate.

Tinker gave out signed black armbands to encourage students to stand up for freedom of speech and copies of her coloring book, called “Know your Rights”, which pictured famous constitutional rights protests throughout the history and aspects of the First Amendment.

Tinker gave advice to students wanting to peacefully protest on campus.

“First of all, you always want to assess,” Tinker said. “Assess what’s already going on. What are other people already doing about it? What can you do about it with them?  Try to find out what’s going on, hook up with some other people who care about your issue,” Tinker said.

If in doubt on whether to protest, Tinker had this to say.

“You have two options, you can either do nothing or do something. If you do nothing it’s kind of boring.”

President of the Political Science Club and Political Activist Rachel Gonzalez related to Tinker’s message of freedom of speech in schools because Gonzalez was once censored on campus.

“I think I have my right to freedom of speech to an extent at Missouri Western, but we as students have to get any kind of poster we want to put up, we have to get permission to put up. I tried to get a public posting board put up for the SGA but it was denied,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez enjoyed the event and said everyone should research their own constitutional rights. 

“Our generation especially should know they have a right to stand up against any injustices that they think is important,” Gonzalez said.

Another student attending Western, Zoie Reynolds, said she also enjoyed the event and that people should know about Tinker and what she stands for.

“I loved it. I thought it was very inspirational and a very cool once in a lifetime experience.” Reynolds said. “I think it is very important to know because I think there is a lot of students who want to do similar things but don’t know how to go about it and how to make these changes and know how she went about doing it.”

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