UConn tweets statement supporting high school students disciplined for peaceful protest

 Students and faculty gather to the steps of the Student Union to protest the recent Executive Order issued by President Donald Trump. Various speakers and activists pass the megaphone and speak out against the "Muslim Ban" issued last week. A small group of Republicans went to protest their side of the argument, holding an American flag. (John Sammis/The Daily Campus)

Students and faculty gather to the steps of the Student Union to protest the recent Executive Order issued by President Donald Trump. Various speakers and activists pass the megaphone and speak out against the "Muslim Ban" issued last week. A small group of Republicans went to protest their side of the argument, holding an American flag. (John Sammis/The Daily Campus)

The University of Connecticut tweeted out a statement this weekend stating students’ admissions decisions would not be impacted by disciplinary action by their high schools for participating in peaceful protests.

“UConn would like to assure students who have applied or been admitted to the University that disciplinary action associated with participation in peaceful protests will not affect your admission decision in any way,” the tweet read.

Nathan Fuerst, Assistant Vice President of Enrollment and Director of Admissions, said students are required to report any disciplinary actions on their application and update the university on any new actions. 

“The University of Connecticut fielded a few requests for clarification on whether a student's admission would be revoked if they were to face disciplinary action as a result of participation in peaceful protest,” Fuerst said. “Given the increasing frequency of requests on Friday regarding peaceful protests and possible suspensions, the post on social media is intended to provide clarification for these inquiries.”

Fuerst said the inquiries seem to be related to students’ participation in events such as the upcoming March for Our Lives to pressure lawmakers to pass improved gun control laws.

Omar Taweh, a sixth-semester physiology and neurobiology and psychology double major and one of the organizers of last semester’s March for Action said he was pleasantly surprised that UConn released the statement.   

“I was shocked they did it because (of) their inaction to a lot of other things,” Taweh said. “They rarely post statements on things like this, so the fact that they got somewhat political this quickly after something like this happened kind of shocked me, but I was very satisfied.”

UConn is just one of the dozens of universities that recently posted these kinds of statements. Other institutions include Yale University, MIT, Boston University and Wesleyan University.

Stevie Della-Giustina, eighth-semester political science and economics double major, said he appreciated that UConn “stood up to support high school students’ First Amendment rights.”

“My little sister is a sophomore at Amity Regional High School and has been very afraid to go to school every day since the shooting in Parkland,” Della-Giustina said. “But she thought she would ‘get in trouble’ if she organized a walk out. So for UConn to stand up and support high school students’ First Amendment rights really assured her that she could speak her mind and be supported by others as she gets into what Congressman John Lewis called ‘good trouble.’”

Though it is unclear whether Mansfield’s E.O. Smith High School would discipline students for participating in protests or demonstrations, the school states in its “Civity Policy” that it does not intend “to deprive any individual of his or her right to freedom of expression,” but intends to “maintain to the extent possible and reasonable a safe, courteous and harassment-free environment for all members of the school community.”

“The Board (of Education) expects mutual respect, civility and orderly conduct among all members of the school community while on school property or at school events,” the policy states. “District staff will treat students, parents and other members of the public with respect, and will expect the same in return.”

E.O. Smith Principal Lou DeLoreto declined to comment at the time of publication.

UConn’s admission policy also requires all students to divulge any criminal convictions. Fuerst said the statement does not apply to this policy.

Taweh said while he was satisfied with the statement, it does not erase the fact that UConn has not been publically supportive of students protesting issues such as racial inequality or sexual harassment in the past.

“It seems like UConn is under the facade that they are a savior of all students, when really they’re really only talking about students that are peacefully protesting about one issue, and they have really neglected to talk about students protesting other issues,” Taweh said.

Taweh said the recent push for gun control reform by young adults, spearheaded by the survivors of the Parkland shooting, is particularly salient to young people because high schoolers were the ones who were directly impacted. Taweh said when the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary happened, the students were too young to advocate for themselves, but that is not the case with Parkland.

“Now that the students are just as able to advocate for themselves...it’s gotten so much more attention than any other...mass shooting in the past couple years,” Taweh said.

Taweh said he wants to see the university do more in the future to support student activists.

“I hope this sets a precedent for the university to make more statements,” Taweh said. “I hope they see the positive reaction this has evoked among the community...I’m hoping that they will be willing to be more outspoken in regard to issues like this.”


Anna Zarra Aldrich is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at anna.aldrich@uconn.edu. She tweets @ZarraAnna.

Gabriella DeBenedictis is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at gabriella.debenedictis@uconn.edu.