Colby admissions makes statement on student protestors

Claire Borecki

Colby’s Miller Library- a staple symbol of the Colby experience (Courtesy of Google)

On Feb. 24, the College released a statement in response to the many gun violence protests occurring across the United States, largely organized by high school students in the wake of the Parkland School shooting in Florida. In doing so, Colby joined a wave of elite colleges and universities in assuring their future applicants that involvement in protests and any punishments received as a result would not count against them during the application process.

In a short statement with themes of activism, truth, peace and the College made clear that “applicants to Colby will not be adversely affected in the admissions process if they have engaged in peaceful, respectful protests… even if they have received school discipline for these actions.”

In the highly opaque college admissions process, such statements are a rare moment of clarity. They show how profoundly the process permeates the daily lives and decisions of high school students, as they stop mid demonstration of a life-or-death issue to consider whether protesting will hurt their chances at an education. And, it’s hardly unfounded; students from across the country have already faced threats of disciplinary action, and the students from Parkland have been criticized by conservative media as being everything from naïve to fake “crisis actors” paid to push a leftist agenda.

Colby’s statement not only encourages students to march ahead despite backlash, but also provides an opportunity for the people of Colby — faculty, staff and students alike- — to reflect on what the College stands for.

Colby’s statement focused on the importance of thoughtful, truth-seeking expression and dissent as a method both of learning and improving the world. Assistant Professor of English Aaron Hanlon, whose writings on free speech issues have been published in the New York Times, spoke on importance of protest.

“Something that too often gets lost in national discussions about free expression is that peaceful protest is a crucial form,” he said. “It’s therefore important for colleges and universities to affirm this foundational aspect of our history of civil rights advocacy in this country.”

Other faculty members have weighed in on the statement. “I am delighted that Colby, along with other colleges and universities, is reassuring high school students that their participation in peaceful protest will not jeopardize their admission status,” Walter Hatch, Government Professor and Director of the Oak Institute for Human Rights said. “This was clearly the right thing to do.”

Hatch also spoke of his excitement and pride in seeing the activism of high school students throughout the country. “It gives me great hope that the political paralysis over gun violence in this country might finally end,” he said.

Whether the Parkland shooting will become a historical marker of how Generation Z ended the United States’ chronic mass shootings or if it is simply a sobering step on the road of political inaction on gun control remains to be seen. But either way, Colby had the opportunity to remind young people of the importance of intellectualism, free speech, protest, and the truth — and they embraced it.