Office of University Communications & Marketing

UNA Communications Department Receives Liberty Tree Grant for First Amendment Program
Jan. 20, 2011



FLORENCE, Ala. – When demonstrators speak out on controversial issues or hand out flyers about religion on the University of North Alabama campus, public relations major Jennie Sun comes to realize how basic liberties that are guaranteed by the First Amendment affect the nation.

“We are lucky in America to have the right to say what we think because not a lot of governments in other countries allow that,” she said. “I do think students realize their freedoms, but they don’t appreciate them until they see on the news how bad it is in other countries.”

Sun will have the opportunity to celebrate her liberties with the UNA community during a month-long First Amendment commemoration in April through the Department of Communications, which recently received a $5,000 grant from the Liberty Tree Initiative.

Dr. Greg Pitts, department chair and professor, submitted a proposal to the initiative in October and has worked with UNA president Dr. William Cale to designate April as First Amendment Month on campus.

Under a national program called “1 for All,” the Liberty Tree Initiative supplies teaching materials to schools and works with college campuses in organizing First Amendment-related educational events. The program has funded similar grants in the past to colleges such as the University of Tennessee, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Southern Illinois University.

“We have a great communications program here, and this is just one more way in which we’re reminding people that we’re here and active in the community,” Pitts said. “We are helping to educate students about their rights to freedom of speech and press. With that comes the responsibility that students be engaged and to ensure that they use and respect their rights, as well.”

Pitts hopes to use the $5,000 grant to create a First Amendment display of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights in the main lobby of the communications building. He also plans to supply business-sized cards of the Bill of Rights to students studying communications.

The department wants to attract local interest in the celebration by offering a video submission contest for UNA and high school students and an art competition through a partnership with the Tennessee Valley Art Association. After the competitions are completed, Pitts said the department will participate in the First Friday event in downtown Florence April 1 to display the student art and videos.

In order to unite the campus and increase knowledge among students about the First Amendment, the department will also plant a tree, which will be dedicated to the Liberty Tree Initiative. During April, various campus and Greek organizations will be encouraged to decorate a campus tree with a Liberty Wrap, which is a cloth that focuses on one or more of the guaranteed First Amendment freedoms.

Pitts plans to bring two speakers to campus to talk about freedom of expression, assembly, and the responsibility and need for First Amendment awareness. The department will also host a campus-wide speech contest as well as commemorate World Press Freedom Day, which is May 3, by providing a framed display of the front pages of international newspapers.

“I think that Americans and students generally are not as familiar with the First Amendment as we ought to be, so I’m hoping we can use this grant to raise our awareness of the importance of the First Amendment and the freedoms it guarantees,” said Dr. Jim Martin, professor of communications. “I try to stress the First Amendment in my classes, and I try to emphasize that I believe we are the freest nation on earth, but if we don’t protect those freedoms, they can slip away.”