Typically, students want to avoid evidence of disciplinary measures on their school records. While getting suspended for, say, drinking beer at a school football game might not automatically disqualify a student from most colleges, admissions officers do take those matters seriously and expect an applicant to express remorse and show growth, explained Diane Anci, a dean of admissions at Kenyon College, a small liberal-arts college in Ohio.
Responding to these concerns from students, many college-admissions offices began issuing statements on social media and on their websites last week promising seniors and future applicants that they would not be penalized for participating in nonviolent protests. The admissions office of Georgetown University, for example, tweeted: “We provide all applicants an opportunity to elaborate on any disciplinary infraction and carefully consider all context they provide. Participation in a peaceful protest will not negatively impact admission to Georgetown.”
Teens have been involved in other social movements over the past couple of years, such as Black Lives Matter and the Women’s March. But the post-Parkland movement is the first to elicit a widespread response from colleges. Drew Riley, the associate dean of admissions at Colgate, noted that his college has seen an uptick in political activism among their applicants in recent years, but that the coordinated, nation-wide activism around this issue is “unprecedented.” Colleges’ quick response could also be due to the fact that this movement is focused on high-school students—and includes national school walk-outs as one of its core actions. This makes concerns over school discipline more common than they may have been in previous movements.
But while the #NeverAgain movement stands out for provoking a wave of public support, most of the schools’ statements didn’t particularly focus on the movement or on gun control—instead, the statements emphasized support for students’ free expression and engagement in activism more generally. The official account of UC Berkeley, for example, tweeted: “Dear prospective students: We fully support your right to peacefully protest, and would never refuse your admittance for doing so. Signed, the home of free speech.” Most schools emphasized that political participation of any kind fits in with the core mission of their school. A message from Duke read: “Duke has always valued active and responsible engagement in civic life among its students and applicants. We will always consider all applicants fully and individually … An applicant’s participation in peaceful protests has never been a reason for us to deny or rescind an offer of admission.”
The administrators I spoke with emphasized that their support would extend to peaceful protest of any political leaning. Jon Boeckenstedt, a vice president for enrollment at DePaul University, A Catholic university in Illinois, said that DePaul would support students participating in any form of civic action, including a March for Life. He added, though, that this support does not give students carte blanche; his university was not endorsing “senioritis” or violent protests.