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Saturday, Dec 2, 2023

Applicants Have Right to Protest, College Says

The Middlebury admissions office released a statement on Monday addressing applicants’ involvement in political protest. The college joined over 170 other schools, including nearly all of the NESCAC and the Ivy League, in releasing a statement on the subject.

This trend is in response to nationwide high school walkouts protesting gun violence and advocating for gun control laws after the recent shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. 17 students and staff members were killed, making it the deadliest high school shooting in United States history.

In addition to smaller protests and walkouts occurring across the country, there will be national high school walkouts on March 14th and April 20th. Students who participate in these walkouts could be punished by their high schools for missing class time, and those instances of discipline could end up on students’ transcripts.

The majority of colleges’ statements made it clear that their admissions offices would not penalize students for involvement in protest.

Middlebury’s statement, however, did not. “We understand that student applicants may be concerned that their personal political activities, particularly those that may lead to disciplinary action by their school, might be viewed negatively by colleges and universities they are seeking to attend. The Middlebury College Admissions Committee will consider such reports in light of its belief that students are active members of our society and have political rights and obligations,” said the statement on the admissions office homepage.

Middlebury’s statement also differed from other schools’ in that it did not specifically name protests over gun rights. “This is true without regard to the content of the issue,” ended the statement.

The admissions office did not draft the statement on its own. “As is typically the case with matters of institutional policy, this statement was drafted in consultation with several offices,” said dean of admissions Greg Buckles.

The statement did not discuss current Middlebury students’ involvement in protest, although it did mention “free speech” and “peaceful protest,” phrases that have become commonplace on campus since the events surrounding Charles Murray last March.

The statement begins, “Middlebury College respects the free-speech rights of students and student applicants. This includes the right to engage in peaceful protest and civil disobedience regarding issues of personal or national interest.”

There is no definition of “peaceful protest” in the college handbook, but there is reference to free speech in relation to protest.

“For specific events and during specific times of the year, Middlebury College invites the public to join us at events and extends free speech and expression privileges during these events,” it reads. The handbook requires students to register protests with Public Safety and allows the college to dictate the location.

In anticipation of more high school walkouts over gun violence, college admissions offices continue to release statements on how they will treat discipline for protests on applications.