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Beyond the News

Post-protest: Colleges overlook HS activism

University Business, April 2018

The tragic shootings at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February triggered a massive reaction by U.S. high school students, capturing the attention of the public and the media in ways students never had before.

From rallies and marches to nationwide school walkouts and sit-ins outside congressional offices, many young people are pleading for an end to gun violence.

High school leaders in several states are clamping down on these activities, threatening suspension and, in at least one reported instance, arrest. The underlying threat: Such actions could lead to rejected college applications.

For better or worse, student activism has long been part of the fabric of higher ed, whether it concerns gun control, immigration issues, women’s rights, police brutality, sexual assault or even a university’s investments in fossil fuels.

After the initial wave of protests, a number of colleges acknowledged that heritage and announced they wouldn’t hold students liable for these disciplinary actions.

Seattle University, California Institute of Technology, MIT, DePaul University, Dartmouth College, Saint Anselm College and Smith College are among the schools clarifying how a disciplinary citation on their applications may be viewed by admissions officers.

At the University of Southern California, Director of Undergraduate Admission Kirk Brennan has made it clear that students need not worry.

“We consider information about disciplinary action carefully, not formulaically. We hope to understand lessons learned, with an eye to a student’s potential contributions to learning,” he said in a statement.

“Though it is rare, we sometimes choose to deny or rescind admission of students who appear to be threats to our community standards. But we have also welcomed students who have shown they have moved beyond temporary lapses in judgment. The goal is education, not further punishment.”

Elsewhere, there is a recognition of the importance of free speech and the right to protest.

“Virginia State University and our fellow HBCUs were literally built and sustained on the idea of peaceful protest,” noted President Makola M. Abdullah on Twitter. “A student’s participation in peaceful protest will not impact their application negatively. We encourage all students engaged in peaceful protest to apply.”