FAU’s Constitution Week: The Highlights

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Kelly Yarbrough, freshman pre-business major, recites her winning Constitution Day speech in the Majestic Palm room of the Boca campus student union on Wednesday, Sept. 18. Photo by Austen Erblat.

Constitution Week, a three-day celebration at FAU (in recognition of the nationally-recognized Constitution Day on Sept. 17) that focuses on the founding document of the United States government, now has drawn to a close. Through the three days, students had various opportunities to learn about the US Constitution; ranging from trivia contests, to panel discussions, to an opportunity to experience a brief taste of life without the Constitution’s Bill of Rights.

On Monday, Political Science Professor Kevin Wagner hosted a Constitution-themed trivia Contest, the Constitution Brain Bowl, in the House Chambers. On Tuesday, the Society of Professional Journalists hosted the First Amendment Free Food Festival, where students traded in their rights for a free lunch, and Susan Reilly moderated a panel discussion on the First Amendment. Finally, on Wednesday, a series of lectures on how the Constitution affects politics and everyday college life preceded the announcement of the winners of the Constitution Day essay contest.

Here are some highlights from the Constitution Week events:

Monday:

Monday featured a trivia contest hosted by Prof. Wagner, the Constitution Brain Bowl, situated in the House Chambers of the Student Union Conference Center at 3pm. In the contest, students worked together in teams, and answered questions about the Constitution and similarly-important government documents (Supreme Court Cases, Congressional Rulings, etc.).
The contest was organized into several rounds (each with a set number of questions, ranging from 5 to 10) and teams were awarded one point for each question they answered correctly; at the end of each round, the team with the lowest number of points earned in that round were eliminated.
A team consisting of current and former Boca House of Representatives members, Nadine Aly, Renata Glebocki, Didier Ortiz, Christopher Ferreira and Jihad Sheikha, eventually won the contest.
“I thought it was fantastic, having students there competing on knowledge of the Constitution,” Wagner said. “I thought they had a great time, I know the faculty there had a great time. I think it’s a great event, I’m looking forward to doing it again next year.”

Tuesday:

Constitution Day itself, Sept. 17, began with an event that revoked the rights protected by the Constitution’s Bill of Rights.
The First Amendment Free Food Festival began at 11:30 a.m., when students walked through the doors of the Grand Palm Room in the Student Union, stopped at a makeshift checkpoint, and signed away their First Amendment rights (right to speech, assembly, religion, press and petition) for a free meal.
Students received a passport to the “People’s Republic of the Soviet Socialist States of the Kingdom of Boca Raton,” which included a card with a single topic written on it; students were only allowed to talk about their assigned topic during the event, as they surrendered their right to free speech when they signed up. Students also were unable to choose what food they got for free, or who they sat with.

“I was told that for the rest of the day, I couldn’t say anything except for what my topic was about” said Jevon Jackson, an Accounting major, “the event made me [see] my First Amendment right as a privilege. It’s a privilege to have your rights.”

Also a part of Tuesday’s proceedings, FAU invited a panel to come discuss the First Amendment and many of the controversies from last year (the GEO Group Stadium buyout, former President Saunders hitting a student with her car, Deandre Poole’s “Stomp on Jesus” exercise) were discussed.

The panel consisted of Prof. Kevin Wagner, Randy Shultz (of Palm Beach Post), Craig Agranoff (of Politicalconsultants.com) and Katy Sorenson (of the Good Government Initiative). The panel discussed First Amendment rights, how these rights contribute to a university’s atmosphere and how media and universities interact. “It was always important to have a relationship with the media that was honest, that was open, that was transparent and the job of media is to be vigilant,” said Sorenson.
A question about the media’s relationship with universities from the moderator, Reilly of FAU, quickly turned the conversation to last year’s controversies: including the GEO bid to name the FAU Stadium, the “Stomping on Jesus” lesson and Tracy’s commentary on the Sandy Hook shooting. “[The newspaper] is not necessarily there to advocate for the university…when the newspaper thinks that a university is doing something wrong we believe it is the newspaper’s responsibility to speak up,” said Shultz.

A student-posed question brought the panel’s conversation around to what FAU can do to fix its battered reputation. “The university does amazing things almost daily,” said Wagner, pointing out that a lot of effort is put into bringing good news to the forefront of media. The other panelists reiterated that staving off other controversies and displaying all of the good news pieces to the community and soon FAU will be remembered for the “amazing things” it does.

Wednesday:

Students listen to Assistant Dean of Student Conduct Joanna Ellwood deliver a lecture on how the Constitution affects the daily lives of college students. Photo by Austen Erblat.
Students listen to Assistant Dean of Student Conduct Joanna Ellwood deliver a lecture on how the Constitution affects the daily lives of college students. Photo by Austen Erblat.

The final day of Constitution Week events featured a series of Faculty, Student and Administration presentations in the Student Union’s Majestic Palm Room, all discussing different aspects of the Constitution, and how the document affects political theory and everyday college life. Also featured at the presentations were the three winners of the Constitution Day Essay Contest.
First to deliver a presentation was Becky Mulvaney, a political science professor here at FAU, who discussed the importance of the First Amendment to the Constitution; specifically, the rights covered by the Amendment, how the Amendment came to be as an idea, and the role that those rights play in a democratic system. “Speech concerning public affairs is more than simply self-expression, it is the essence of self government,” Mulvaney said, quoting Supreme Court Justice William Brennan. “It is only through free speech…that’s the tool of a democratic society.”

Following Mulvaney was Tim Lenz, another political science professor, who discussed the relationship between political theory, the courts and the Constitution. Lenz spoke on the interpretation of the Constitution by the Supreme Court and the thought process used by judges when referencing the document during cases.
The final presentation was delivered by the Assistant Dean of Students and Director of Student Conduct Joanna Ellwood. Ellwood spoke regarding the impact the Constitution has on everyday life at FAU and how the Constitution — specifically the Bill of Rights — has influenced the Student Code of Conduct.
Finally, after the presentation was concluded, Wagner introduced the three winners of the Constitution Week Essay Contest, who then read their essays to the assembled crowd. The winners were freshman pre-business major Kelly Yarbrough, sophomore history major Zachary Castin freshman accounting major Patrick Garrett.

“I’m really proud that I won…” said Yarbrough, “I think all those submissions were great, so congratulations to everyone who one.”
“I was very surprised [to win],” said Garrett, “I wrote it for class, put a little effort into it, this is punishment for writing it the night before!”

“I was very pleased with how it went, I thought that there was good student participation,” Robert Bailyn, the organizer for Constitution Week, said “There was a symposium that dealt with some important topics, and hopefully shed a little light on them, as the intent was to discuss issues not on an emotional level, but on a level of looking to the wisdom of the First Amendment and Constitution. I thought that went very well. All in all, it was a good setup, good operation.”

[Miranda Schumes contributed reporting to this story]