A fine line for activism

A recent controversy at Macalester College questions the role of administration to support student activism.

In April, Macalester College student group Kick Wells Fargo Off Campus  staged a sit-in protesting the college’s relationship with the bank. Despite yearlong negotiations with KWOC, Macalester administration declined their request to switch their banking relationship to a local community bank. KWOC is targeting Wells Fargo because of their involvement with numerous foreclosures affecting the Macalester community.

The sit-in started as a three-day protest with students surrounding an administrative office. However, Rebecca Hornstein, a KWOC member and recent graduate of Macalester, said the protest changed when KWOC heard back from administration on their final decision to stay with Wells Fargo.

Then, a smaller group of 17 students began blocking doors, which violated the Macalester student conduct code. The Macalester Conduct Board eventually put a number of these students on probation, restricting them from involvement in sports programs, study abroad programs and student leadership positions within the college.

Hornstein said the severity of the punishment was intended to chill activism on campus.

Kai Peterson, former vice president of the Macalester student body, said the punishment was fitting, and student activism is “alive and well” at the school.

 “There’s a fine line to walk,” Peterson said, “the administration can’t give immunity to student activists.”

Higher education has long been a sanctuary for protest. It is the responsibility of university administrations to allow responsible activism on campus. The actions of some KWOC protesters violated the conduct code and were irresponsible, despite their positive intention. Going forward, Macalester administration should continue to treat students as adults, responsible for their own actions, and mind the line between punishing poor conduct and chilling activism.