Colleges across NJ support students’ right to protest

By Gianluca D’Elia

Several universities nationwide, including Rider, have announced that their admissions offices will not penalize their applicants for protest-related disciplinary actions, in response to gun violence protests after the mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida in February.

A growth in high school student activism has led to a daunting question for these graduating seniors: “Will this end up on my permanent record?” There may be an answer to that now. Across the nation, college admissions offices — including Rider’s — have announced their support of high schoolers who may face disciplinary actions for engaging in peaceful protests.

These gestures of support came in response to the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 students, teachers and coaches were killed. Over the past month, a vocal group of student activists from Douglas has been at the forefront of the national debate on gun violence.

Rider joined other schools statewide in support of students’ protesting rights when the admissions office announced March 2 via Twitter that peaceful protesting would not jeopardize their admission. Rutgers, Princeton, TCNJ and Fairleigh Dickinson have also released similar announcements within the past two weeks.

“Rider would not consider any disciplinary action, as the result of peaceful demonstrations, to negatively impact our admissions decision-making process,” said university spokeswoman Kristine Brown.

Princeton’s Office of Admission wrote in a similar statement, “In the wake of recent plans for peaceful protests by high school students related to the ongoing gun control debate, we have received a number of inquiries about how Princeton University’s admission office treats high school disciplinary sanctions that might be imposed in response to such activity. Students who act on their conscience in peaceful, principled protest will receive full consideration in our admissions process.”

Nicole Dvorin, ’17, is a former campus tour guide at Rider. She said the school’s decision sends a positive and relieving message to high school students who want to exercise their right to free expression and contribute to the larger conversation on gun violence.

“I’m proud of my school and the admissions department for making that decision,” Dvorin said. “I think it’s a great reflection of what our school values.”

The fear of facing disciplinary consequences for protesting has become a realistic one for some New Jersey high schoolers. A teacher in Cherry Hill was suspended after a student complained about the instructor voicing concerns about the school’s security to students. In response, students staged a walk-out to get history teacher Timothy Locke taken off of administrative leave. Their principal told them the day before that they would be suspended if they left school property. Hundreds of students poured out of Cherry Hill High School East on Feb. 27, marched around the school track and nearby streets.

Rachel Vetesi, a senior communication major from Cherry Hill, said she supported Locke’s encouragement of students to talk about what happened in Parkland.

“I think it’s important for students of all ages to be able to have a ongoing conversation about events like the Parkland massacre,” she said. “We cannot prevent something like this from happening again by staying silent.”

Vetesi said she is relieved that high school students who protest — including the ones in her hometown — will not be penalized by their future colleges.

“If a university were to penalize a student for taking action and speaking up for people’s lives in a peaceful way, they would not only be doing themselves a disservice, but it would display that the university’s priorities are not set straight,” she said. “We should be praising and supporting children for speaking up.”

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