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New England Colleges Tell Applicants To Feel Free To Protest Parkland Shooting

Therese Gachnauer, center, a 18 year old senior from Chiles High School and Kwane Gatlin, right, a 19 year old senior from Lincoln High School, both in Tallahassee, join fellow students protesting gun violence on the steps of the old Florida Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla., Wednesday, Feb. 21. (Mark Wallheiser/AP)MoreCloseclosemore
Therese Gachnauer, center, a 18 year old senior from Chiles High School and Kwane Gatlin, right, a 19 year old senior from Lincoln High School, both in Tallahassee, join fellow students protesting gun violence on the steps of the old Florida Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla., Wednesday, Feb. 21. (Mark Wallheiser/AP)

College admissions deans in New England are telling applicants that participating in protests likely will not jeopardize their chances of being admitted.

At least one school district in Texas has threatened to suspend students who protest the recent shooting deaths at a Florida high school. Some students have contacted the colleges and universities, concerned that such discipline could hurt their applications.

At least a dozen New England colleges and universities issued statements Thursday and Friday urging students to follow their consciences when deciding whether to take part in marches or walkouts.

MIT's acceptance letter does require students to report any disciplinary action that occur after admission, and MIT has the right to revoke admission.

But in a blog post Thursday, MIT Dean of Admissions and Student Financial Services Stu Schmill pointed out that some admitted students have asked if their participation in upcoming protests could lead to their acceptance being rescinded.

"[A] disciplinary action associated with meaningful, peaceful participation in a protest will not negatively impact their admissions decision, because we would not view it as inappropriate or lacking integrity on its face," Schmill wrote.

"[W]e hold our students to a high standard and give them a wide berth," Schmill went on. "It would be at best quixotic, and at worst hypocritical, if we treated our applicants differently, penalizing them for engaging in responsible, responsive citizenship as the students at Stoneman Douglas and elsewhere have done."

Boston University's statement specifically mentioned the coming protests against mass shootings of students.

“Boston University believes that every student should expect a safe school environment in which to learn and study," said Kelly Walter, associate vice president for enrollment and dean of admissions, in the statement. "We stand in support of every high school student who chooses to participate in peaceful protests, such as the March For Our Lives and the National School Walkout Day, or who thoughtfully and respectfully exercise their freedom of expression.”

Worcester Polytechnic Institute Dean of Admissions Andrew Palumbo tweeted: "I can’t believe I even have to clarify this: students applying to WPI will not be penalized for exercising their 1st Amendment rights to speak out against gun violence."

UMass Amherst tweeted similar messages of support, and also replied to a critic on Twitter, who accused the school of "pushing a leftist agenda."

"We are not 'pushing a leftist agenda,' " read the tweet. "Peaceful civic engagement is encouraged at UMass Amherst, regardless of the side of the political spectrum on which you fall. We embrace diversity — not just diversity of color, gender, and ethnicity, but also diversity of thought."

Dartmouth College tweeted a more general support for student protests: "Dartmouth supports active citizenship and applauds students' expression of their beliefs. Participation in peaceful protest in no way jeopardizes your admission to Dartmouth, even if you are disciplined or suspended. Speak your truth."

“We were getting questions through our alumni interviewers and it was showing up on our social media, particularly our Facebook group, starting to talk about what would happen if,” Dartmouth Dean of Admissions Lee Coffin said in a telephone interview Friday.  “And so we thought, let's follow MIT and others.”

Tufts University, too, encouraged applicants to protest.

"When you act on your values, in a principled way, on issues about which you feel passionately, it will not be held against you in the application process," said a statement from Dean of Admissions Karen Richardson. "In fact, we may even take notice."

Admissions officers at Northeastern UniversitySmith College, Springfield College, Hampshire College and Mount Holyoke also expressed support of student protests.

Material from New England Public Radio was used in this report.

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Fred Thys Twitter Reporter
Fred Thys reports on politics and higher education for WBUR.

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