Dartmouth will not penalize applicants for protesting

by Alex Fredman | 3/6/18 2:30am

The Dartmouth admissions office released a statement on Feb. 23 advising prospective students that disciplinary actions resulting from protests or other activism will not negatively affect their chances of admission to the College.

In the wake of the Feb. 14 school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, high school students across the country engaged in activism on issues of gun control and school safety. These actions, which have included protests and school walk-outs, have generated concerns among college applicants that disciplinary actions from their high schools could hurt their chances of admission.

The College’s statement, which was released on the College’s social media accounts in response to these protests, reads, “Dartmouth supports active citizenship and applauds students’ expression of their beliefs. Participation in peaceful protest in no way jeopardizes your admission to Dartmouth, even if you are disciplined or suspended. Speak your truth.”

According to vice provost for enrollment and dean of admissions and financial aid Lee Coffin, the statement was released in response to a growing body of questions from both prospective students and alumni interviewers asking whether students who were considering becoming active on this issue should be concerned about the ramifications for their Dartmouth admissions application.

“Students should behave as they see fit,” Coffin said. “Different [high] schools are going to have different responses to what students are doing or saying or requesting, but distinguishing that voice from the act of applying to college felt important to clarify.”

Coffin added that the admissions office has been receiving questions from students and interviewers across the country, especially in light of a planned “March for Our Lives” demonstration in Washington, D.C. on March 24, which is expected to draw large numbers of high school students.

Coffin also noted that Dartmouth has applicants from Stoneman Douglas in its current applicant pool, but the admissions office has not heard similar concerns directly from any of those students. Coincidentally, Dartmouth’s Florida admissions representative had a phone call scheduled with the Stoneman Douglas counselor on the day of the shooting, he said.

Several other universities, including all of the Ivy League schools, have released statements expressing support for student protests and activism. Stefanie Niles, vice president for enrollment management at Dickinson College and president-elect of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, said that this issue is particularly relevant because many colleges will be releasing their admissions decisions in the next two to three weeks.

“We were really impressed and inspired by the actions and activities of these young people — those in particular in Florida who were impacted by the tragedy in Parkland, but [also] by others who are now standing up and taking a stand against school violence,” Niles said.

Niles added that she has heard from colleagues around the country that students have been contacting admissions offices expressing concern about potential disciplinary actions resulting from protesting. She said that one office, in the course of 36 hours, received about 50 calls from students and families on this subject.

As a result, Niles said, admissions offices have been issuing statements similar to the one from Dartmouth to ease those concerns.

“We want to respond in support of those young people,” Niles said.

Bev Taylor, founder and chief executive officer of college admissions consulting firm Ivy Coach, said she has been monitoring the statements by admissions offices, noting that while almost all other highly-selective schools have put out statements, Dartmouth’s statement came out relatively early.

“Dartmouth and these other highly-selective colleges are letting students across America know that they support them, that they stand with them,” Taylor said.

Taylor added that she thinks colleges are sending a clear message to prospective students with these statements.

“We applaud colleges who are announcing that students who are engaged in peaceful protest won’t face repercussions — in their case, admission to these institutions,” she said. “But really, why should they? Protesting doesn’t lack integrity — in fact, it shows integrity.”

Taylor also noted that although admissions offices have been putting out these statements in response to the movement on gun control, she does not think that the schools were intentionally offering their support for specific policies.

“I don’t think the gun control issue was the motivating factor,” Taylor said. “I think the motivating factor was to support students who want to advocate, and support students who want to speak up.”

Coffin confirmed that Dartmouth’s statement was not meant to specifically endorse gun control policies nor directly endorse students engaging in activism. He said that Dartmouth’s policy regarding disciplinary actions prior to students’ matriculation at the College has not changed and that the main purpose of the statement was to re-iterate the policy that the admissions department looks at these disciplinary actions through the context in which they were given.

“If you have something that matters to you, don’t let your application be the reason you hold your peace, whatever your opinion is,” Coffin said.

Coffin said that students are asked to report any disciplinary actions they have received on the Common Application, and that accepted students’ high schools report any additional actions in the mid-year and final reports. The admissions department deals with reports of disciplinary actions on a case-by-case basis, often asking questions such as whether or not the school uses a zero-tolerance policy, he said.

“We build a residential community,” Coffin said. “Who are we inviting to join that community? It’s part of my responsibility to do the best I can to ensure that this is a safe space.”

Taylor said that this effort falls in line with Dartmouth’s admissions strategy in general.

“Students who seek a better world are precisely the kind of students that the College on the Hill seeks in its incoming class,” she said. “Kudos to Dartmouth for backing all that up.”