Student Activism and the Admission Process

David Burge, NACAC PresidentUpdate from NACAC President David Burge

I’m writing to you today in the wake of the terrible human tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, where 17 students and teachers were gunned down. In addition to our feelings of loss and sympathy for the educators, families, and community affected, I give special consideration for those personally affected by this senseless loss of life.

Inspired by the voices of the student survivors speaking out, the media has reported on a growing wave of student activism organized by secondary school students across the country that include multiple tactics – some of which could result in disciplinary actions. Some have suggested that these disciplinary actions, or behaviors on social media, could affect the admission status of students either currently engaged, or soon-to-be-engaged, in the college admission process.

The NACAC team has created a digital resource for colleges and universities to report their practices around how disciplinary actions related to activism will be factored into the admission process. It is designed to be an amplification of those who have already expressed a position, a call for institutions that have not done so to make such a statement, and a centralized resource for school counselors and families of those seeking more information. The goals are transparency and ease of use. Colleges and universities can participate by filling out the survey.

I’m reminded of a central theme of the strategic plan, “NACAC will provide the counseling and admission profession with knowledge, research, and tools to ensure all students have access to higher education.” And I’m reminded of how our Statement of Principles of Good Practice: NACAC’s Code of Ethics and Professional Practices expects transparency concerning the way disciplinary actions and conduct are both reported by schools and factored into the admission process.

NACAC has a leading role to play in the clarification of those practices across multiple institutions and to make sure that school counselors, the frontline of student support, have an in-depth understanding of how different institutions consider activism and disciplinary reprimands when making an admission decision. Students win when our members are informed and can counsel with confidence.

Student activism at either the secondary or postsecondary level is not problematic on its face. Activism signals that students are ready to take control of the world around them, that they are finding their voice, building confidence, and are on the path to be engaged citizens.

There are also hard choices to be navigated by school administrations as they work to ensure safety and protect the right to learn for all students. Those decisions must be informed by accurate information, hence this project in support of our members. 

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