Admissions Movement to Support Student Protests Grows

More colleges announce that students who are suspended for participating in peaceful activism will not be hurt in admissions process.

February 26, 2018
Tweet: Wouldn't it be great if well-established Admissions folks from a wide variety of distinguished colleges and universities made loud public statements that said to kids: "Get suspended for standing up for your beliefs. We've got you on this side."
Feb. 21 tweet from @MrDavidQuinn

What started last week with a high school teacher offering a suggestion to college admissions leaders (above) has grown considerably. In the wake of the Feb. 14 killings in a Florida high school, many high school students have organized a movement to push for tougher laws on guns. Some of those activities have included plans for school walkouts. And some secondary school leaders have said that such students would be suspended, leading many of them to fear the impact on college admissions. Most colleges ask applicants and high schools to report suspensions, after all.

As of Friday morning, eight colleges had issued statements pledging to current and future applicants that suspensions that result from peaceful protest would not be held against anyone. By early Monday, the number had grown to 78. And the National Association for College Admission Counseling has expressed support.

David Burge, vice president of enrollment management at George Mason University and president of NACAC, wrote in a statement on the association's website, "Student activism at either the secondary or postsecondary level is not problematic on its face. Activism signals that students are ready to take control of the world around them, that they are finding their voice, building confidence, and are on the path to be engaged citizens."

NACAC is also maintaining a database of colleges where admissions offices have announced that they will not punish anyone who is suspended for involvement in peaceful protests. The colleges include prominent institutions such as Dartmouth and Williams Colleges; the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; the University of California, Los Angeles; and Yale University.

Of the first group of statements, MIT's drew widespread attention and praise for the way Stu Schmill, dean of admissions and financial services, framed the issue.

"We have long held that students should not make decisions based on what they think will get them into college, but instead based on values and interests that are important to them. We believe students should follow compasses over maps, pursuing points of direction rather than specific destinations and trusting they will end up where they belong. As such, we always encourage students to undertake whatever course of action in life is most meaningful to, and consistent with, their own principles, and not prioritize how it might impact their college applications," he wrote.

Several colleges have posted statements that link their views on this issue to institutional histories or important movements in U.S. history.

UCLA begins its statement with a quote from Clark Kerr, from his presidency of the University of California system. The quote: “The university is not engaged in making ideas safe for students, it is engaged in making students safe for ideas.”

Building on the Kerr quote, Gary Clark Jr., director of UCLA undergraduate admission, offers this message for those protesting: "Know that UCLA stands with you. Participation in peaceful, meaningful protest and/or civil action in no way jeopardizes your admission or scholarship to UCLA. The motto for the University of California is Fiat Lux, or Let There Be Light. We’re known for our sense of optimism, even in the direst of circumstances. The students and community of Stoneman Douglas represent that light for us all. Say your piece, speak your mind, and demand better of us all."

Ken Anselment, dean of admissions and financial aid at Lawrence University, started his statement with a quote from Henry David Thoreau on civil disobedience: "But, to speak practically and as a citizen … I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government. Let every man make known what kind of government would command his respect, and that will be one step toward obtaining it."

The students who are protesting, and who may face suspension for not being in school, "are applying in the real world what they are learning in their classrooms by engaging in civil disobedience of their own and demanding for 'at once a better government,'" Anselment said. "They may not be old enough to vote -- yet -- but they are old enough to raise their voices and take action together. This is the generation of students we are admitting to our universities. These are the students we will prepare in our colleges to lead us."


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