Harvard, MIT and Yale among colleges that won't penalize applicants protesting gun violence

On Wednesday, one month after the school shooting that left 17 dead in Parkland, Florida, high school students across the country will walk out of their classrooms to protest gun violence and advocate for gun reform policies. As the Washington Post reports, several school districts have threatened severe disciplinary punishment for students who join the protest, which could impact something high schoolers care about deeply — going to college.

In response, many of the best colleges and universities in the country have come out in support of civically-engaged high schoolers. Among them — Harvard, MIT and Yale.

The John Harvard statue in Harvard Yard at Harvard University in Cambridge, MA.
Rick Friedman | Getty Images
The John Harvard statue in Harvard Yard at Harvard University in Cambridge, MA.

The Needville Independent School District outside of Houston, Texas was one of the first school districts to announce that students who protest on the 14th will be punished.

"We will discipline no matter if it is one, 50, or 500 students involved," wrote Needville Superintendent Curtis Rhodes in a letter to students and parents, as reported by the Dallas News. "All will be suspended for three days and parent notes will not alleviate the discipline."

Disciplinary actions such as the ones described by Rhodes are recorded on a student's permanent record and are often reported to the colleges they have applied to and been accepted by, causing students to worry about their futures.

"Students who have been admitted to MIT's Class of 2022 have asked us if their acceptance will be rescinded if they are disciplined for joining the protests, while other applicants still under consideration are wondering if they have to choose between speaking out and getting in," writes MIT's Dean of Admissions, Stu Schmill, in a blog post. "In this case, a disciplinary action associated with meaningful, peaceful participation in a protest will not negatively impact their admissions decision, because we would not view it as inappropriate or lacking integrity."

Dozens of other colleges and universities including Brown University, Dartmouth University and Wellesley College have made similar statements.

Tom Conroy, director of public affairs at Yale tells CNBC Make It that the university will not rescind acceptances sent to students who are punished for protesting and that applicants waiting for a decision from Yale will still be considered if they decide to walk out.

"Yale considers each disciplinary action reported by a student or a student's school in the context of the student's full application, and students who are disciplined for missing school for any reason will certainly have an opportunity to explain the circumstances to the admissions committee," he says. "Admission decisions will not be rescinded as a result of an absence to participate in peaceful civic engagement, regardless of the issue or cause."

In a statement shared with CNBC Make It, Harvard's Director of Media Relations, Rachael Dane took this concept one step further. Living a life of active and engaged citizenship is something that Harvard encourages, she explains.

"The mission of Harvard College is to provide a deeply transformative liberal arts and sciences education that will prepare our students for a life of citizenship and leadership. Fundamental to our mission is our belief that students have the right to protest peacefully about issues of concern to them," writes Dane. "Students who are disciplined for engaging responsibly in exercising their rights and freedoms would not have their chances of admission compromised or their admissions revoked."

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