Teens for Gun Reform march in Washington, D.C. after the Parkland, Florida high school shooting. Photo courtesy of Lorie Shaull.
An influx of walk-out protests against gun violence, led by high school students, are fast-approaching. One takes place on Wednesday, March 14. Some of these young people were threatened by their respective high schools with suspension if they walked out of class in order to observe 17 minutes of protest (one minute for each Parkland, Florida shooting victim) on the grounds of disruption.
With the fear of being rejected from colleges due to a suspension on their transcript, students asked prospective schools what their fate would be in the application process if such a blight existed on their academic record. Universities generally responded with a resounding “no,” confirming there would be no repercussions if students peacefully protested and were suspended as a result.
UMBC has joined with other universities and put out a statement regarding the issue. In an interview, UMBC officials confirmed that, “participation in peaceful protests and demonstrations in support of important social issues will not negatively affect admissions decisions.” The discussion is supported by UMBC’s official policy on peaceful protest, stating that, “UMBC is committed to inclusive excellence, social justice and freedom of expression.”
This is the correct response from colleges when faced with underage students promptly contributing to society through civic responsibilities protected by the First Amendment. Senior English major Erin Tyler, working towards a certification in early childhood education to become a teacher, believes, “[protesting] is an exercise of their First Amendment right as citizens … in order for students to become successful members of society and agents of change for our country, they should feel empowered to work towards these goals.”
Every college that is interested in upholding the American right of protesting for what one believes in should join UMBC and the host of others who made official statements concerning the subject. Universities are the perfect place for students to broaden their minds and participate in their community, whether through peaceful protest, boycotting or fundraising. These acts should be encouraged for high school students, especially those motivated to do so on a college level.
Protesting indicates a healthy involvement in social issues by students, something which is part of the very foundation of higher education and American values itself. The Houston principal who started this conversation due to his suspension warning is impeding on the students’ right to protect their own interests against the plethora of gun violence incidents in their schools.
“I do think that on some days, the walk-outs are disruptive to the classroom and the learning environment … that being said, I wholeheartedly believe … when those fundamental parts of education and life are called into question, it should absolutely be the right of students and educators to make their voices heard. I stand with students who feel victimized and unheard. The safety of our children in schools should be a top priority,” Tyler stated.
The issue of gun violence is a far-reaching and complicated one in the United States. Tensions and emotions are running high. However, no matter what, civic involvement through protest or other means should never be discouraged for young people by authority figures. High schools should recognize their students’ passion for social issues and college admissions should overlook any disciplinary matters that may arise from young people’s community involvement.