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ASU's year in review 2020 — and oh, what a year it has been

December 18, 2020

This year showed us the power of resilience.

With a new virus changing life as we know it, social justice protests and a big election — not to mention ASU's first (and second) virtual commencement and the launch of distance-and-in-person learning via ASU Sync — there was no shortage of news in 2020. Sun Devils have stepped up, showing their compassion, their smarts and their grit in the face of a very tough year.

COVID-19 dominated many of the top ASU Now stories, but there are also compelling research findings, stories of inspiring entrepreneurship and helping others, creative performances and even a presidential pet feature. Click through the months below for a fast-forward review of 2020.

And remember: Forks up, masks up. We are all — still — in this together.


We broke new ground in more ways than one, as construction projects began and finished, and a new viral threat began to make headlines.


Sun Devils were feeling the love this month, winning innovation prizes, sharing their meet-cute stories and learning more about our state.


The month everything changed: On March 11, midway through spring break, ASU made the decision to transition in-person classes to remote instruction. Employees pivoted to working from home wherever possible, and life on campus looked very different.


We began to adjust to our new reality, looking to new ideas for food and PPE supply chains. And "A" Mountain sported a new look in salute to those frontline medical workers caring for communities facing an unprecedented crisis.


A very big month: ASU's first-ever virtual commencement took place in May, and ASU's Biodesign Institute developed the state's first saliva-based COVID-19 test — which continues to be available to the public at no charge. The university kicked off its summer concert series with multiplatinum singer, songwriter and dancer Jason Derulo. And yes, two of our top stories that month involved the efficacyA topic that some in the wider community debated throughout the rest of the year. of face coverings in fighting COVID-19.


After George Floyd's death at the end of May, protests and discussions about social justice and equity began to dominate discourse across the country — and the university.


As summer heated up, so did preparations for the fall semester and the need for COVID-19 testing in high-need communities across the state. ASU's staff and faculty stepped up for both — including several First Peoples' COVID-19 Resource Drive events. And to further help the community, ASU Prep Digital rolled out a full-time K–8 virtual school option.


A semester unlike any other began with students in classrooms and on Zoom screens around the world. Learning continued, as did research on everything from ice to heat.


Big headlines dominated the month, including the launch of the Global Futures Laboratory and ASU's sixth straight No. 1 innovation ranking. September was also the month when — to accelerate meaningful change at ASU and to contribute to a national agenda for social justice — President Michael M. Crow announced the university's commitment to 25 actions to support Black students, faculty and staff.


ASU continued to work with its communities, whether that was expanded COVID-19 testing or building a student-centered learning approach for Arizona's K–12 schools. And at the end of the month, early voting began on or near all four campuses as the nation headed toward a momentous Election Day.


The ASU community blazed new trails, with a new residence hall, two new schools, a new head of Knowledge Enterprise and new best practices for learning in a pandemic. 


The changes continued in key positions, with leaders of Academic and Learning enterprises announced, as well as ASU's first-ever Innovation Quarter over winter break.

Top photo: Ashley Tabar snaps a selfie as she celebrates receiving her bachelor's degree in marketing. ASU and portrait agency GradImages offer fall 2020 graduates in-person photo sessions in front of the iconic Old Main in mid-November. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Why free speech is important to Sun Devils

ASU students lead workshops about importance of free speech on campus

December 18, 2020

It was during her first year at Arizona State University that global studies and justice studies double major Evanna Rouhani attended a workshop through Sun Devil Civility that changed her perspective and got her involved in the group’s work. 

“I loved how much it encouraged me to think critically about my own identities, and about how to create a more inclusive community on campus,” she said. ASU students talking at the Student Services Lawn at ASU Tempe campus on National Voter Registration Day 2019 Students at the 2019 National Voter Registration Day event at ASU's Tempe campus. Download Full Image

Rouhani immediately asked to be involved, and now the ASU senior is a team lead for the group, which presents workshops for students, faculty and staff on identity and inclusion, conflict management, sexism and more. 

Recently, part of her work has involved developing a brand-new workshop that focuses on the First Amendment and how it applies on campus. The hourlong sessions are being developed to launch in spring 2021 and are being led by the student members of Sun Devil Civility. 

“We will be emphasizing the power that words have in our workshop,” Rouhani said. “Words have the ability to promote inclusion or to take away from it. Even though we all have the right to free speech, we still need to be thinking about the impact of our words, especially on ASU’s campus, so that we can all be promoting the ASU Charter and making this a place where people feel safe and welcomed.” 

ASU’s Charter states that ASU measures itself not by whom it excludes but by whom it includes and how they succeed. With the diversity of identity and thought on campus also can come differences of opinion. President Michael Crow has emphasized that ASU prioritizes both our charter and the right to free speech on campus. 

“As a public university, we advance our charter within the framework of state and federal policy, including the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which provides the right to free speech,” Crow said in a statement on student discourse. “ASU is committed to free, robust and uninhibited sharing of ideas among all members of the university community, and we strive to provide an environment that fosters the fullest degree of intellectual freedom and free expression.” 

This emphasis has been noticed. Arizona State University is ranked in the top five universities for supporting free speech, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE. ASU is the largest school to have earned a “green light” from the organization, which works to defend and sustain the rights of students, faculty and staff. FIRE’s mission is to defend and educate about free speech, due process, legal equality, religious liberty and sanctity of conscience at America’s colleges and universities. Their red, yellow and green light rankings measure whether a college or university’s policies restrict free expression. 

ASU offers resources specific to free speech through the Dean of Students office. Student leaders have further created opportunities for dialogue among their peers around free speech though Sun Devil Civility, student government and student organizations. Through the Dean of Students office, ASU Student Advocacy and Assistance also guides students in resolving any impediments to their academic goals. 

“To me, free speech is directly related to advocacy,” Rouhani said. “Through our ability to practice free speech, we are able to advocate for groups of people who have less privilege than ourselves. It is important that we do not take this lightly, that we reflect on what we want to devote our energies to in terms of advocacy and that we then do so with as much vigor as we can muster.”

Nicole K. Mayberry, a PhD candidate in human and social dimensions of science and technology, said free speech has been important for her experience as a first-generation college student. 

“When I got to ASU almost eight years ago, I really had a very small bubble of what I thought the world was. As I spent more time at ASU and engaged with more people, I realized that there was a bigger world out there, as naive as it seems,” Mayberry said. “So I think engaging with diverse perspectives really just makes your world bigger [and] makes your perspectives more enriched and more enhanced.”

As the vice president of external affairs for ASU’s Graduate and Professional Student Association, Mayberry said she seeks out diverse viewpoints and dialogues through student government and through student organizations. 

“Free speech to me means engaging in discussion and dialogue, whether you have the same viewpoint as somebody or a different one and being able to engage in a conversation openly, respectfully and without feeling like something is going wrong,” Mayberry said. 

Trey Leveque, a senior at ASU studying business, has been a leader in student government, civic engagement and more in his time as a Sun Devil. He said it’s critically important for university students to seek out people you won’t agree with on everything, because that’s when you learn. 

“I’ve experienced as a student leader on campus a lot of organizations that may disagree with each other. And when that happens it’s really important for students, organizations and leaders to come together, share those ideas and be respectful and have a civil dialogue in the process,” Leveque said. “When students are able to have this civil dialogue, students are able to work together, share ideas and have open conversation around things you disagree with. And by disagreeing with one another, they’re able to learn so much more than they would have in any other situation.”

As an artist, ASU senior Amar Camisi said broadening his perspective is something he thinks about when he thinks of free speech. 

“Free speech is important, because as a creative person I feel like I always want to be expressive for the work that I put out, and I always need healthy dialogue, whether it’s between people critiquing my work or the work that I’m putting out,” Camisi said. “Sometimes it may not be reflective of other people’s belief systems, and it’s always just important to be able to have healthy dialogue, healthy discussion, because if we’re all just saying the same things all at the same time it can lead to echo chambers.”

Each of these Sun Devils have a different but important perspective on free speech moving forward from their college years: Camisi wants to own his own art studio someday. Leveque plans to run for office or lead equity efforts in an organization. Mayberry has her eye on academia, and Rouhani plans on pursuing law. Freedom of expression will be as pivotal in their careers as it has been in their collegiate lives. 

Rouhani is excited to share about the importance of civil discourse and free speech through her new workshop to set the tone for a rich and diverse academic life at ASU. 

“Diversity of thought … is so important because the value of different perspectives is immeasurable,” Rouhani said. “When we hear stories of others, we begin to understand them better and then are less likely to act out of a reaction to an unconscious bias, but instead to create real, meaningful relationships with the people in our global community.” 

Hannah Moulton Belec

Digital marketing manager, Educational Outreach and Student Services