University admissions offices send message to teens protesting gun violence

As students protest gun violence, universities post supportive messages.

Students participate in a protest against gun violence February 21, 2018 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. CREDIT: Alex Wong/Getty Images
Students participate in a protest against gun violence February 21, 2018 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. CREDIT: Alex Wong/Getty Images

As students participate in walkouts across the country to urge lawmakers to do something about gun violence, several universities announced that they would not let discipline as a result of peaceful protest affect admissions decisions.

These universities and colleges include Dartmouth College, Tulane University, University of Puget Sound, John Hopkins University, Northeastern University, Brown University, University of Connecticut, University of California, Los Angeles.

Dartmouth tweeted a statement on Friday saying it “supports active citizenship and applauds students’ expression of their beliefs.”

Clark University tweeted, “If you’re considering Clark, we doubt you’re waiting for our permission to stand up for your beliefs. But to be clear: Admissions offers will not be affected by suspensions or other disciplinary actions at your high school that may result from your positive and constructive participation in walkouts, demonstrations, or other peaceful protests.”

Jeff Schiffman, director of admission at Tulane University, published a blog post on Friday supporting peaceful student protest.

“The basic fundamentals of a college education build upon freedom of speech,” Schiffman wrote. “… We will not penalize students for standing up for what they believe or for making opinions known through peaceful protests.”

Jon Boeckenstedt, associate vice president for enrollment management and marketing at DePaul University, tweeted that the university wouldn’t hold discipline as a result of protest against students. Unlike many of the statements sent out by universities and colleges on how discipline would affect admissions decisions, he did not qualify the word protest with “peaceful, “productive,” or “constructive.”

It’s unclear how universities would define what makes a protest “productive” or whether individual students would be held accountable if they attended a protest  that became disruptive or violent through no fault of their own. Police officers sometimes respond to peaceful protests by showing up in riot gear and declaring them unlawful. In Charlottesville, police simply watched white supremacists and counter-protesters fight each other, endangering everyone at the scene.

There is also the question of why colleges and universities consider school discipline records in the first place. In 2016, the U.S. Department of Education released a guide helping colleges consider how to weigh an applicant’s criminal or school discipline record. Since school discipline is often meted out to black students far more often than white students, the department said colleges should consider whether admissions policies are racially biased.

Some school districts have stated that they will suspend students over protests during school hours. In Texas, Superintendent of Needville Independent School District, Curtis Rhodes, said that if students protest during school hours, they face a three-day suspension, according to ABC News.

In a Facebook post that has since been deleted, Rhodes wrote, “Life is all about choices and every choice has a consequence whether it be positive or negative. We will discipline no matter if it is one, fifty, or five hundred students involved.”

On Wednesday, the Spring Independent School District north of Houston, Texas told students that they could face in-school suspension for walkouts.

The district released a statement which said, “Please know that we want to work with you to find productive ways to make meaningful change through other methods of support, like reaching out to lawmakers.”

In Wisconsin, Waukesha School District Superintendent Todd Gray sent an email telling students and faculty that participation in walkouts would result in disciplinary action.

“Participation in a walkout is disruptive and against school regulations, and will subject students to disciplinary measures,” Gray said.
Some parents were critical of the email. Gray updated the memo to let parents know that students could protest if the student had an excused absence.