Free speech icon Mary Beth Tinker set to visit Doane

Free speech icon Mary Beth Tinker set to visit Doane

Mary Beth Tinker, the plaintiff in the landmark First Amendment Supreme Court Case Tinker vs. Des Moines Independent School District (1969), will visit Doane College’s School of Arts and Sciences on April 15 as part of her Tinker Tour, a project sponsored by the Student Press Law Center (SPLC).

Joined by Mike Hiestand, a First Amendment lawyer, she will speak at 7 p.m. in the Chab Weyers and Hixson Lied Art and Education Building on the Crete campus. Her speech will be held in AE 236-240 and is open to the public at no charge.

David Swartzlander, assistant journalism professor, urges the college community as well as middle and high school students in the area to attend.

“Free student expression affects everyone at Doane College and it would benefit students to know that they can affect change by standing up for what they believe is right, without resorting to violence. It shows the power of peaceful change,” Swartzlander said. “I hope the community – especially middle and high school students, teachers, administrators and parents – also would be interested (in attending).”

In 1965, at age 13, Tinker and a group of fellow students, including her older brother, were inspired by an anti-war rally in Washington. They wore black armbands to school to mourn soldiers killed in the Vietnam War while also supporting Robert F. Kennedy’s push for a Christmas truce in the war. They were taken out of class and suspended.

During the next four years, Tinker, her family and her friends fought for free speech. They endured and persevered through intense school board meetings, death threats and two lower federal court cases before reaching the United States Supreme Court. On Feb. 24, 1969, the Supreme Court ruled in their favor, part of which said, “It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

Tinker went on to have a career in nursing but has always remained a free speech icon. The Tinker Tour started last fall and made 58 stops, reaching more than 20,000 students and teachers while traveling more than 15,000 miles up and down the East Coast. This spring, the tour is traveling the western half of the country.

David Swartzlander, who is also the past president of the College Media Association (a nationwide organization), met Tinker at a national convention in New Orleans. With that connection and the help of student worker Alisha Forbes ’14, Swartzlander coordinated bringing the Tinker Tour to Doane.

Tinker will join Doane journalism and media faculty and students for dinner at 5 p.m. in Perry Memorial Campus Center’s Trobough Dining Room. Before her evening engagements, Tinker is slated to meet with a class at 2:30 p.m. and Doane Student Media at 4 p.m. in Gaylord Hall.

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