Each Spring, the Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs sponsors a Freedom of Expression Symposium and prize competition on a current topic in public discourse. Students compete for up to $2,000 in prize money by crafting innovative policy proposals and giving public presentations that respond to a pressing issue in policy making or public affairs.

2024 Theme: Misinformation in American Politics

Congratulations to the Winners of the 2024 Competition!

For the 2024 symposium, students crafted policy proposals aimed at combating misinformation in American politics, a topic of particular and current importance given rapid technological advances in the use of artificial intelligence in the past year coupled with the upcoming presidential election cycle.

The Goldfarb Center extends its congratulations to all of the 2024 symposium winners and participants, including six finalists: Tommy Lowell ’26 placed first in the competition for his proposal to hold social media companies accountable for harm caused by the use of bots that spread misinformation on these platforms. Zani’ah Brown ’24 placed second with her comprehensive proposal to stop misinformation spread through multiple means, including enhanced media literacy education, cybersecurity coordination, and government funding for local newspapers.  

In an unprecedented development for the symposium competition, there was a tie for third place: Saathvika Diviti ’25 won for her proposal to stop the spread of health misinformation through the establishment of a specialized oversight body to verify the health claims of politicians; and Louis Weiner ’24 and Erik Holm ’25 share in the third place honors for the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA Act): their proposed legislation to regulate the acquisition and utilization of user data by social media and tech companies. Zaynab Tariq ’26, Aubrey Costello ’27, Sarah Doore ’27, and Peter Ryan ’27 also advanced to the competition’s final round. Find all of their thoughtful and creative proposals here

Competition Overview and Proposal Guidance

Prompt: Propose a policy aimed at combating misinformation in American politics. 

We welcome policy proposals that address a broad range of policy issues related to combating misinformation in politics. Your brief should clearly state the problem being addressed and recommend a specific, actionable policy or policies as a solution. Competitors are welcome to discuss their policy ideas with Goldfarb staff and faculty advisors and may also craft and submit proposals as pairs or as teams of competitors. 

Proposals must be submitted by 9:00 p.m. on February 20th to [email protected] and [email protected]. Time extensions will not be permitted. A panel of faculty and staff judges will select up to 8 proposals to move forward to the next stage of the competition as semi-finalists and give an oral presentation of your proposal.

Competitors selected as semi-finalists will be awarded $300 and you or your team will present your topic and policy solution to a panel and audience at the Goldfarb Center’s Freedom of Expression Symposium on Sunday, March 3rd at 4:00 p.m. The top three winners will be announced at the end of the event. First place at the symposium will receive $1,700; second place $1,200, and third $700. Any pairs or teams selected as the top three finishers will share the proceeds, evenly.

Policy Brief Guidance

 *(adapted from the UNC Writing Center Policy Brief Guidelines)

Policy briefs should be between 500-800 words and clearly propose, explain, and argue for a policy related to combating misinformation in politics. The target audience for your brief is a government agency or think tank. The argument should be both specific and compelling. You should not include visuals and graphics. Your briefs should be carefully crafted, succinct, and include the following sections: 

~Title: A good title quickly communicates the contents of the brief in a memorable way.

~Executive Summary: This section is often one to two paragraphs long; it includes an overview of the problem and the proposed policy action.

~Context or Scope of Problem: This section communicates the importance of the problem and aims to convince the reader of the necessity of policy action.

~Policy Recommendation: This section contains the most detailed explanation of the concrete steps to be taken to address the policy issue. The majority of your brief should be devoted to this section. 

~Consulted or Recommended Sources: These should be reliable sources that you have used throughout your brief to guide your policy discussion and recommendations. (Separate from word count)

In order, to hone your brief, we recommend you ask yourself the following questions: 

~Is your proposal well-thought out, well-researched, and explained in sufficient detail? 

~Have you reviewed existing policy responses to your problem to explain why your proposed approach is needed? 

~Have you explained how your recommended change(s) would be implemented? Does your proposal demonstrate both an awareness of current realities and a creative vision?

~Is the brief clear, organized, and persuasive? 

~Have you supported your proposal with evidence and cited your sources? (You can use any style but be consistent and make sure to attribute as necessary.) 

~Is it written to be intelligible to a wide audience of stakeholders? 

Presentation Guidance

Selected finalists will make an oral presentation of 7-10 minutes at the Freedom of Expression Symposium on March 3rd at 4pm. Each presentation will consist of 5 minutes of prepared remarks followed by a 3-5 minute Q&A session with judges. Students are encouraged to provide a multimedia dimension to their presentations, although it is not required. Think TED talk, pechakucha-style presentation, or PowerPoint pitch rather than a formal speech. Remember, the goal is to deliver a succinct and compelling presentation that effectively communicates your policy proposal. 

Resources and Support

Looking for some help to write or hone your policy proposal for this year’s symposium? Then please mark your calendars for Monday, Feb. 19 from 4-5 pm when tutors from the Farnham Writers Center (FWC) will be available in Miller 08 to support you with nailing your persuasive pitch.  

Representing among the most diverse spaces on campus, the Farnham Writers’ Center (FWC) seeks to bring all people together to build a culture at Colby that acknowledges writing as an iterative process of self-improvement and critical medium of self-expression. Foundational to the work the FWC does each day is recognizing each writer’s unique voice and perspective and its role in cultivating a truly vibrant and inclusive space on campus. For this reason, the FWC is pleased to be collaborating with the Goldfarb Center to support competitors in this year’s Freedom of Expression Symposium. Boasting a wide array of disciplinary backgrounds and equipped with extensive writing genre knowledge, the FWC’s capable peer tutoring staff are well-prepared to support all participants with submitting a proposal that reflects their best writing effort. 

Don’t miss an opportunity to get unparalleled peer support with writing your policy proposal, along with some tasty snacks.

On Sunday, February 25 from 2-4 pm, join Kathy Hansen from the Program for Academic Success and Transformative Learning in Diamond 123 to get pointers for crafting and delivering engaging oral presentations and another round of tasty snacks. All are welcome at this learning session — you don’t need to have submitted a policy proposal to be able to participate — and Kathy will also be available to provide individualized guidance and assistance to Symposium competitors.  Please register to attend this training session here so that we can plan accordingly for estimated attendance. 

2023 Theme: Healthcare

The theme selected by the Goldfarb Student Executive Board for the 2022-2023 Freedom of Expression Symposium was healthcare. Each year, the Symposium’s theme is tied to an issue that is newsworthy, has clear ties to public policy, and can engage students across campus.  

Michelle Bechtel, Justin Kim, and Helen Wang placed first in the competition for their proposal to address the shortage of rural physicians by removing barriers to and adding incentives for increasing residency positions in remote communities. Sophie Peterson placed second with a proposal to improve healthcare access for marginalized patients through the use of community health workers. Susie Swan placed third with a proposal to address the overwhelming number of opioid overdose deaths through the protected expansion of harm-reduction programs such as syringe distribution programs. Saathvika Diviti, Anna do Rosario, Cliona Kenney, Sonia Marnoto, and Saia Patel were also selected to compete in the 2023 competition. Read all of the inspiring policy ideas presented at this year’s competition here.

2022 Theme: Freedom of Speech

In April 2022, eight student semi-finalists presented their policy proposals on Freedom of Speech. Topics ranged from Free Speech at Colby: Problems and Recommendations, to Enhancing Freedom of the Press in the United States.

The winners were decided by a faculty panel, which included Professors Christel Kesler, Aaron Hanlon, and Jin Goh, all members of the Goldfarb Faculty Advisory Committee. The top prize went to Serena Klebba ’25 for her work on Freely Informing Consent: A Plan to Change Mandated Pre-Abortion Counseling, second place went to Amir Jiru ’24 and Chris Ward ’24 who teamed up to focus on Misinfo Ed: Addressing Social Media Misinformation Through Education, and third place was awarded to Anna doRosario ’25 for her compelling thoughts on A Turning Point: Time for an “FDA for Tech”. 

Freedom of Speech Programming '21-'22

Freedom of Speech

Colby Faculty Panel: Global Perspectives on Free Speech

March 28, 2022

As part of the Goldfarb Center’s annual theme on freedom of speech, Colby professors guided us in a conversation on free speech with a global lens. How do policy approaches to free speech vary across countries? Is the US approach to free speech exceptional? What kinds of historical and contemporary factors help us understand different countries’ orientations toward free speech? What global and geopolitical forces shape policies on free speech?

The panel included Jen Yoder, the Robert E. Diamond Professor of Government and Global Studies and a member of the Goldfarb Faculty Advisory Committee, Jun (Philip) Fang, Visiting Assistant Professor of Sociology, and Nazli Konya, Visiting Assistant Professor of Government. Moderating will be Christel Kesler, Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Sociology.

Social Media, Political Polarization, & Free Speech

March 17, 2022

How has social media shifted the way we consume and share information? Has the surge of digital platforms driven (or not) America’s growing political divide? What policies can balance the protection of free speech with malicious disinformation campaigns?

The Goldfarb Center hosted a high-level panel discussion, tackling these questions and more and exploring the nexus between social media, political polarization, and free speech. Panelists included Roger McNamee, a tech venture capitalist and author of Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe; Renée DiResta, technical director of Stanford Internet Observatory; and Chris Vlasto, an ABC News senior executive producer. Kimberly Flowers, executive director of the Goldfarb Center, moderated the conversation.

This event is currently live on our website for 14 days only! You must have a @colby.edu address to watch it.

For more information on Roger McNamee, please visit www.prhspeakers.com

Scholars Strategy Network

Researching for Public Impact: How to Use Your Knowledge to Impact Policy

March 11, 2022

The Goldfarb Center hosted a workshop that helped inform students on writing compelling and jargon-free policy briefs. Participants moved through each step of the policy brief drafting process and actively shaped their idea into a first draft. The workshop also included practical information on how to distribute your policy brief for maximum impact.

The workshop was led by Andrew Pope and Kristina Mensik from the Scholars Strategy Network. Andrew is the Director of Training at the Scholars Strategy Network. In this role, he works closely with staff and leaders from across the network to develop trainings that empower scholars to use research to improve public policy. Andrew has a PhD from the History Department at Harvard University. Kristina is the Trainings Fellow at SSN, where she supports researchers in the policy process. In addition, Kristina is a policy advocate and researcher largely focused on state legislatures, incarceration, and political participation.

The Role and Rise of Disinformation​

The Role and Rise of Disinformation

February 17, 2022

The Goldfarb Center welcomed Lisa Kaplan ’13, founder and CEO of Alethea Group, who discussed disinformation in the digital age. From public policies to social media tactics, Kaplan explored how the general public, government, and private companies alike can protect and mitigate disinformation and social media manipulation in today’s world. 

The event was hosted in-person for the Colby community. The recorded event can now be live-streamed at colby.edu/livestream.

Free Speech in the Classroom: Conflict and Contradiction

January 11, 2022

The Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs hosted a conversation featuring Jan Plan visiting faculty Bernardine Dohrn and William Ayers. The talk was a contemporary conversation about how to respond to the desires, demands, and questions in classrooms today. What contradictions and conflicts, complexities and controversies, emerge when we consider free speech in the classroom? This is part of a series of events the Goldfarb Center has hosted this year in line with its focus on freedom of speech.

Bernardine Dohrn, activist, academic, and children’s and women’s rights advocate, is a retired Associate Clinical Professor from Northwestern University School of Law, where she was the founding director of the Children and Family Justice Center for 23 years. Dohrn is an author or editor of “Race Course: Against White Supremacy”; “A Century of Juvenile Justice” and “Resisting Zero Tolerance: A Handbook for Parents, Teachers, and Students”. Willam Ayers, formerly Distinguished Professor of Education and Senior University Scholar at the University of Illinois at Chicago has written extensively about social justice and democracy, education and the cultural contexts of schooling, and teaching as an essentially intellectual, ethical, and political enterprise. His books include “Teaching toward Freedom”; “To Teach: The Journey, in Comics”; and “Demand the Impossible”!


Does Free Speech Give Us Better Science?

November 16, 2021

Conventional wisdom holds that science flourishes in a free, open society with robust free speech norms. But as misinformation spreads during a global pandemic, costing lives and undermining scientific credibility, is it time to rethink conventional wisdom? The Goldfarb Center hosted an interdisciplinary Colby faculty panel for a conversation about the compatibility of free speech and scientific inquiry and what we can do to protect both. 
The conversation was, organized by members of the Goldfarb Faculty Advisory Committee, including Christel Kesler,  Associate Professor of Sociology & Goldfarb Faculty Associate Director, Aaron Hanlon, Associate Professor of English, and Dasan Thamattoor, J. Warren Merrill Professor in Chemistry and Natural History.
Emerson Sykes

Q&A with ACLU'S Senior Staff Attorney Emerson Sykes on Free Speech Protections on Campus

November 12, 2021

The Goldfarb Center hosted a thoughtful talk with one of the nation’s top First Amendment litigators on free speech issues ranging from protest rights, Black student activism on campuses, and​ the recent string of state classroom censorship bills. The event was an open Q&A session where Colby students had the opportunity to ask Mr. Sykes anything​, which might include discussing his current ​cases and free speech work, ​free speech protection trends, or the historical role of student activism.

Nadine Strossen

Fighting Hate Speech, Defending Free Speech: A Conversation with Nadine Strossen

November 4, 2021

The Goldfarb Center hosted a conversation with civil liberties leader and free speech expert Nadine Strossen. The event officially kicked off a series of programming related to freedom of speech, the center’s theme this year. Ms. Strossen engaged in a robust Q&A with Colby students, faculty, and staff on issues ranging from how to effectively resist hate speech to free speech on college campuses. She talked about constitutional rights, the role of social media, and much more.