Name: Annie Wells
Hometown: Naperville, Illinois
Major: journalism and mass communication
Minor: international studies
You might call Annie Wells a First Amendment champion. The Greenlee Ambassador and 2019-2020 editor in chief of the Iowa State Daily discovered her passion for the First Amendment through her Greenlee courses, her work at the Daily and her involvement with the First Amendment Committee, which plans First Amendment Days and related programming throughout the year.
While the annual First Amendment Days celebration — which was supposed to take place April 6-10, 2020 — has been postponed until the fall semester due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Wells shares how contributing to the planning has helped her discover her passion for educating people about the five freedoms of the First Amendment.
What led you to become involved at Greenlee and with First Amendment Days?
During my freshman year, I got involved at the Daily right away. I was actually at the Daily for a training session a couple of days before my first day of classes as an Iowa State student. By being involved at the Daily, I was seeing a lot of crossover in Greenlee and those who work for the paper, and then seeing those familiar faces got me really involved. Spoon [Mark Witherspoon] also introduced me to a bunch of people. And taking Greenlee classes connected me to those professors, and that really led me to want to learn more from them and take more of their classes.
Later, I got involved with the First Amendment Days Committee and met Julie Roosa, Greenlee’s First Amendment Specialist, and that’s how I discovered my passion for the First Amendment. The Daily has been a really great connector for me and has helped me get involved in a bunch of different places.
What has been your favorite Greenlee course?
Probably one I am currently in, JL MC 497D (First Amendment Freedoms and Conflicts: Know Your Rights). It’s a seminar class about the First Amendment, taught by Julie Roosa. It’s all about educating people about the First Amendment and increasing our understanding of the First Amendment.
We have hard discussions in class and we’re very open, but it is also a civil and positive environment to talk about difficult topics such as hate speech and freedom of religion. But it is such a great environment because it is such a small class. Every day is different, and I am very passionate about teaching others about their freedoms and what the First Amendment entails, whether you’re a journalist or not. It’s super fun, and it doesn’t even feel like a class. Obviously there are assignments and stuff but it just feels like a group of us because everyone is passionate about it and that’s why they are taking the class.
How did your passion for First Amendment Days and the First Amendment in general develop?
I feel like in every journalism and entry-level Greenlee class there’s an extra credit question: “What are the five freedoms of the First Amendment?” I honestly never really thought about them that much until I got here. Once I was a journalism student, I learned about libel and lawsuits and how that can affect my job legally. And once I learned that I was like, “Hmm that’s kind of interesting.”
I started serving on the First Amendment Committee when I was taking JL MC 460 (Law of Mass Communication) with Julie, and we talked about so many First Amendment cases, free speech and hate speech and where’s that line. The class is focused on talking about these cases and precedents and how sometimes the government tries to take our rights away but people keep fighting back. So that law class really inspired me.
When we went to Washington, D.C., for CMA and ACP awards for Iowa State Daily last fall, I talked to Julie a lot about how I was surprised by how many people don’t know what the First Amendment is and that just made me want to tell everyone. I began quizzing my friends asking how many [freedoms of the First Amendment] they could name because I think it is just so important, and I don’t know why more people don’t know them. There’s so much we can do, and I think people forget about that. So that law class and the seminar class taught me that there is a lot more to it than you think and a lot of really interesting cases fueled my passion.
What would you tell somebody who doesn’t know anything about First Amendment Days?
It’s a celebration of our First Amendment freedoms, and it’s purpose is to educate the Iowa State community about them. Most people can name the freedom of speech and the freedom of press, but First Amendment Days is a celebration of all five freedoms — speech, press, petition, assembly and religion. It helps us realize how different our lives would be without the First Amendment
[It’s also about] telling people to use their voice and use their rights. You have a voice, and you can use your voice for good. Sometimes you can feel so small because you’re only one person, but also you are one person and that’s so big because you have your own unique voice.
Interview by Grace Ekema; edited for length and clarity.