Marches, walkouts and protests have taken over U.S. schools with the intention of spreading one message: change, both in schools and within the law. Keene State College has hopped on-board to encourage current and prospective students to civically engage.

Luke Sweeney / Equinox Staff

Luke Sweeney / Equinox Staff

Safer schools and gun law changes have been at the forefront of students’ minds after a gunman opened fire on Feb. 14 in Parkland, Florida, and 14 students and three teachers were killed and many others were seriously at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Speaking up and taking action have emphasized students’ mission – demanding the massacre in Parkland be the last.

On Feb. 26, Keene State College released the following statement on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter: “We want to share that civic engagement is a critical core value at Keene State College. We support students who take constructive action on issues that are important to them. Participation in peaceful protests will not affect admissions decisions for potential students.”

Director of Admissions at KSC Peg Richmond suggested the college release a statement after learning that not only herself, but other college admissions officers were getting phone calls from high school students asking, “What if I were to participate in this rally, walkout or protest? What would happen?”

Many prospective students, she said, were concerned about how that might affect their admissions offer. “[It’s] not that I don’t want [prospective students] to be concerned about it, I’m glad that they were, but I want to make sure that they understand that we do acknowledge their right to gather peacefully,” Richmond said. “I really do applaud them for really taking that initiative and thinking about that.”

Although Richmond said she only received a “handful” of calls from concerned prospective Owls, she said she began to think about the students who didn’t, and wouldn’t, pick up the phone to call. “There were a number of different reasons why I didn’t want them to have to call us,” she said.

Richmond passed the message along to the Marketing and Communications Department. The statement was written by Director of Strategic Communications and Community Relations Kelly Ricaurte and then it was released.

Richmond stressed the importance of a statement like this, saying although situations such as what occurred in Parkland may not be happening directly in students’ backyard, it still has an affect on everyone. “We want [students] to be sensitive to the fact of no matter where it’s happening, it’s still affecting your life,” she said, “and you should be aware of it. How you respond to that awareness is personal.”

Actions such as a peaceful protest or rally are important at Keene State College, and Richmond said she wants prospective students to know that. If anybody were to attend KSC, she said, “we would support that kind of response of a peaceful rally. [It] is a very mature, responsible way to respond to these kinds of situations.”

With good comes the bad, and although Richmond said she hasn’t gotten any backlash from the statement directly, some people tend to lose sight of what a statement such as this truly means. “The people that might be concerned about the statement are thinking, ‘What if there’s the student that all of a sudden turns this peaceful rally into something else?’ That’s different, that’s not peaceful,” she said. “It’s like, people, focus on the peaceful part of it.”

KSC President Melinda Treadwell agreed with Richmond and said, as a public university, it’s natural to have many different opinions, so it’s important, as an institution, there is space given for that. “Hopefully it’s contentious, we have space for discourse that might bring a broader awareness for those affected by strong speech,” Treadwell said.

Additionally, Treadwell said KSC values and supports free speech for all.

KSC senior and psychology major Jenna Barton said standing up for something people believe in is something KSC values and respects. “I think it was a very good idea to not only show support for the Parkland students, but also encourage young students to use their voice and fight for things they believe in. The message portrays KSC as a school devoted to doing the right thing and always supporting students and their decisions,” Barton said.

In terms of what this statement says about KSC’s commitment to civic engagement, Richmond said it says “everything.”

“This really says who we are, that this is who we want our students to be,” she said. “We want you to be aware.”

Jessica Ricard can be contacted at jricard@kscequinox.com