ACLU attorney to discuss Black student activism and free speech

Emerson Sykes

Emerson Sykes, a First Amendment attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, will make a virtual campus visit Oct. 26 and reflect on his work with Black student activists in the U.S. and Africa, as well as reclaiming free speech as a progressive value. 

In his free public lecture, “The Case for Free Speech and Racial Justice: Supporting Black Activism on Campus,” Sykes will discuss the centrality of Black student activists in the ongoing reckoning with white supremacy and anti-Blackness through protest, advocacy and creative expression, as well as the historical role student activists have played in shaping cultural narratives and societal directions within a discussion on free speech.

Sykes’ lecture is part of the UO African American Workshop and Lecture Series, sponsored by the Office of the President and the Division of Equity and Inclusion. In addition to his virtual public lecture at 5:30 p.m., he will meet virtually throughout the day with diverse constituencies, including the president and provost along with members of the African Students Association, African studies faculty, Black Student Task Force, Black Faculty Collective, Black Studies Program and the Umoja Black Scholars.

Aris Hall, coordinator of Lyllye Reynolds-Parker Black Cultural Center, explained why Sykes’ visit is important.

"Black student activism has been ingrained in American society for well over 60 years,” she said. “For our Black students, they want to ensure their voice is heard and that they are seen on campus. I support their activism, and having a speaker join us to speak about the activism happening across the country shows that our students are not alone in their fight not only for equality but equity at the UO and beyond."

Sykes is a senior staff attorney at the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. He focuses on First Amendment free speech protections and works on civil liberties and human rights at the local, national and international levels. In 2019-20 he also was host of “At Liberty,” the ACLU’s weekly podcast.

Previously, Sykes was a legal adviser for Africa at the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law. He provided technical legal assistance to civil society leaders, government officials, law students and other stakeholders from across Africa to improve the legal framework protecting the freedom of association, assembly and expression on the regional and national levels.

From 2012 to 2013, he served as assistant general counsel to the New York City Council and contributed to the council’s friend-of-the-court brief against the New York Police Department’s “stop and frisk” program.

He holds a law degree from the New York University School of Law, where he was a Root-Tilden-Kern Scholar for public interest law. He earned a Master of Public Affairs degree from Princeton School of Public and International Affairs. 

The event is free and open to the public. An RSVP is requested. For further information, see the Division of Equity and Inclusion website.

By tova stabin, University Communications