U.Va. Admissions will not penalize applicants suspended for protesting gun violence

Student Council, Minority Rights Coalition to hold student walkout and march to support gun violence victims

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University Dean of Admission Gregory Roberts issued a statement last Friday affirming that U.Va.'s Office of Admission will not penalize applicants for school suspensions that resulted from participation in peaceful protests. 

Raymundo Mora | Cavalier Daily

University Dean of Admission Gregory Roberts issued an online statement last Friday affirming that U.Va. will not penalize applicants for school suspensions that resulted from protests responding to the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. or any other peaceful demonstration. Seventeen people were killed and 14 others were injured during the shooting. 

This decision adds the University to a growing list of colleges across the country — including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dartmouth College and Tufts University — that have publicly announced their support of prospective students partaking in acts of peaceful civic engagement against gun violence and other causes, even if they have been subject to suspension by their high school. This pledge follows threats from high school administrators in Texas and Wisconsin that have said any student who participates in such protests will face disciplinary action. 

The Office of Admission’s announcement comes in light of a nationwide walkout planned for March 14 in which high school and college students across the country will walk out of classes at 10 a.m. for 17 minutes to protest Congressional inaction on gun control initiatives and show solidarity for the victims of the shooting. 

At the University, both the Minority Rights Coalition and Student Council have scheduled events March 14 in support of the national walk out movement and to show solidarity with the victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

“We seek students who fight for what they believe in and strive for justice, equity, and peace,” Roberts wrote in the statement. “We grieve with the students and families affected by the horrific shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School; we share the national frustration and sorrow over gun violence across the country; and we admire and are grateful for student activists who are leading the charge for change.” 

Assoc. Dean of Admission Jeannine Lalonde said Robert’s statement was not only in support of protests against the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, but also in support of student civic engagement in general. 

According to Lalonde, the University does not have a blanket policy concerning the penalization of applicants or accepted students if they have had disciplinary actions taken against them before or after submitting their applications via the Common Application but added that it is largely handled on a case by case basis. In the application, there is a space provided for the student to explain the reason for the offense, and each case is evaluated individually based on this explanation. Roberts has the authority to make any final admissions decisions. 

“I think that it is important to note that in Dean Roberts’s statement, the first two lines are very general, and then the second half of his statement is specific to what is happening right now,” Lalonde said. “So some students are saying this is just about the walkout that’s being planned for March. But [it’s not], this is about civic engagement in general.”  

Roberts, Lalonde and several other Admission officers are part of a college activism group composed of college counselors and admissions staff from around the country called ACCEPT — a social justice action group that addresses social issues on college campuses. According to Lalonde, the group initiated discussions on the walkouts and the implications of resulting student suspensions last Monday after a high school superintendent from Texas threatened to suspend students if they participate in acts of protest during school hours. 

“To me it almost seems obvious that a school, with our founder, would support protests,” Lalonde said. “We are a public school so I think it’s kind of obvious.” 

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Despite the Office of Admissions’ endorsement of political expression and civic engagement, Tom Katsouleas, executive vice president and provost for the University said in an email to faculty and staff that the University administration will not absolve current students from potential negative consequences that could result from participating in the walkout planned by Student Council. 

Professors will not be required to exempt students from work missed during the walkout, but are allowed to modify their syllabi at their discretion in response to the event. 

Although the University will not be offering exemptions, Katsouleas said it still seeks to support incoming and current students as they speak out against gun violence. Katsouleas added that the University encourages students to express their grief and political will in appropriate, peaceful ways in line with student activism that has been seen and applauded in the past. 

“Indeed, it has been part of our mission for 200 years to develop citizen leaders for democracy, and our students frequently remind us of the numerous ways they embrace that aspiration,” Katsouleas wrote. “That said, the long history of civil disobedience includes the courage to accept the consequences for those acts.” 

Student Council has organized a student walk out scheduled for March 14 at 10 a.m. on the Lawn side steps of the Rotunda which will feature a letter writing station to send messages concerning gun violence to members of Congress. The MRC will also be holding the “Solidarity March to end gun violence” which will begin at the Amphitheater and travel along McCormick Road to the Rotunda after a series of speakers. 

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Sarah Kenny, a fourth-year College student and Student Council president, said in an email  to The Cavalier Daily that the Student Council walkout serves to honor the victims of the shooting and promote social change. 

“StudCo organized this walkout to first and foremost pay our respects to the students who have lost their lives to gun violence in the last year, joining students across the country to remember the students lost at Stoneman Douglas High School a month ago from the date [of the shooting],” Kenny said. “Additionally, we know that there lies great strength in numbers, and … we can contribute to significant and sustainable social change. We hope to fill the lawn with thousands of students, faculty, and staff members to demonstrate to ourselves, to one another, to our community, and to leadership across the country that truly, we've had enough.” 

Kenny added that she thinks the University should not penalize applicants to U.Va. or current students for partaking in civil disobedience. 

“I do not think the University should penalize such students — civil disobedience is a brave and powerful technique uniquely effective at illuminating and disrupting the inadequacies in our legal system,” Kenny said. “Lives are quite literally on the line, and students who non-violently demonstrate exhibit a commitment to community and justice that I find attractive in a candidate for a university student.” 

Raiya Al-Nsour, a second-year College student and Vice Chair of Advocacy for the MRC, said the solidarity march was organized to support the victims of the Parkland shooting and gun violence victims everywhere. 

“The issue of gun violence has been present in our public consciousness but seldom has it stirred this kind of reaction,” Al-Nsour said. “As a nation, it feels as though we’ve allowed ourselves to become numb to gun violence. That is absolutely unacceptable. I am so proud of the young people organizing in Florida… They have forced this country into having serious conversations on this issue. We decided to organize this march as a show of solidarity with the victims of gun violence in Parkland, as well as with the victims of gun violence in Ferguson and beyond.” 

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