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Colleges respond to student demonstrations in, out of school

Photo credit: Alex Harring

Photo credit: Alex Harring

By Alex Harring, Managing Editor

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When senior Raegan Bastien paid her deposit to Ohio University this month, it seemed like the end of the college admissions process. However, with walkouts and other protests happening in Grosse Pointe and across the nation in the country’s eye, a commitment does not necessarily mean security.

Demonstrations intended to disrupt the school day, like the national walkout organized by the Women’s March Youth happening on March 14, have been gaining traction following a shooting in Florida that left 17 dead in February. While districts like Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor Public Schools have planned district-wide walkouts, others, like Needville Independent School District in Texas, have come out publicly against these demonstrations, threatening to punish participants. The Needville superintendent, for example, has said it is a disruption to learning, and administrators will suspend any student walking out for three days.

When applying to college and after being admitted, students are obligated to report any school suspensions or misdemeanors they’ve been charged with. This has left students across the U.S. weighing participation in protests during school hours against potential blowback and its effect on their futures.

In light of decisions like Needville’s, Ohio University and over 200 other colleges have released statements on their websites and social media to admitted and prospective students letting them know that participation in walkouts has their support.

For Bastien, this has changed her outlook on participating. While she was hesitant at first, seeing her college’s statement bolstered her confidence in her decision to walk out.

“College is very important to me, and I worked hard for three years to go to college,” Bastien said. “That security that I know I can still go to the school I wanted to is a big relief.”

At press time, 266 colleges have released confirmed statements of support, according to the #NeverAgain Colleges website. While statements vary in length and style, many have the same message: students must report any suspensions they receive, but they will not be penalized in the application process or have their admission rescinded for peaceful participation in a walkout or similar demonstration.

Junior Jojo Paglino, who is participating in today’s walkout, said he is glad some universities support participation in these events and is even more inclined to apply to schools that have released statements because it shows they share his values.

“It shows there won’t be any repercussions for it, and the college share the same beliefs as me,” Paglino said. “Saying that really makes me more interested in that college … and I’m more comfortable going there.”

On the #NeverAgain Colleges website, colleges are separated into three categories: confirmed statement, no statement or insufficient statement (meaning a statement was released but considered vague or not explicit). There are tools for users to contact school representatives for those schools listed as insufficient or no statement.

In Michigan, six colleges, ranging from state flagships like the University of Michigan and Michigan State University to private liberal arts schools like Kalamazoo College and Alma College, have released statements in support of student participation, according to the National Association of College Admissions Counselors. On the other hand, some schools, such as Sienna Heights University and Oakland University, have no statement released. The University of Detroit Mercy’s statement has been deemed insufficient at press time.

LaShaunta Hairston, president of the Michigan Association for College Admissions Counselors, said that while some universities have released statements in solidarity with students peacefully protesting, she encourages students considering any college that has not released a statement regarding participation in such events to reach out to their representative.

“There are a number of different institutions that have put forth statements in solidarity with the students ensuring them that their peaceful protest will not negatively impact their admission decision,” Hairston said via email. “I think colleges are releasing statements about prospective/admitted student participation in response to other statements that might have been said by others. Colleges just want to make sure students understand exactly what the institution policy is.”

The MACAC has no organization-wide stance on college statements about participation in these events because it is each individual college’s right to have a position on such events and policies for admission, Hairston said. As an admissions director at Kettering University herself, she said college admissions counselors want to assist students through the entire admissions process and are there to answer any questions a student may have.

Bastien said universities are hubs of free speech, so she is not surprised some, including her own future school, have released statements in favor of prospective and admitted student participation.

“I think it’s a fair thing for colleges to do because it’s personal statement, and a lot of college campuses support personal statement,” she said. “I think it’s a good thing, and I’m glad.”

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