Three students suspended after protesting at admissions event 

and | Managing News Editor and News Editor

Three Washington University students have been suspended by administration after participating in a pro-Palestine protest that disrupted a Bear Day event for admitted students on April 13. 

Junior Maclean Kelley, senior RJ Lucas, and senior Daniel Cazares were notified on the evening of the protest that they were temporarily suspended for violating the University Student Conduct Code in a letter from Dean of Students, Rob Wild. 

Per the terms of their suspension, the three students are not allowed on WashU’s campus or University-owned property, including all on and off-campus residence halls, and are not allowed to participate in their courses or extracurricular activities until the suspension is resolved through student conduct hearings.

If the students are found to be in violation of these terms, Wild wrote that they would be physically removed from campus and arrested by the WashU Police Department (WUPD). 

In a separate email exchange with Kelley, Wild wrote that it was “highly unlikely that a hearing would take place prior to the end of the semester.” 

The students said that they believed the suspensions were an unreasonable disciplinary action from the University. 

“We did [this protest] because we want to speak up for something that we believe is right,” Lucas said. “Maybe that warrants a conversation, but a suspension is an intimidation tactic.”

Cazares added that he thought the suspensions were an attempt to crack down on student speech.

“It’s only designed to incite fear and intimidation of students and student activism on campus,” Cazares said. “Just trying to keep this culture of silence, which as demonstrated by arrests and suspensions, is a culture of violence and complicity.”

Cazares said that he got the impression from the email notifying him of his suspension that the University intends to expel the three suspended students, though the email did not explicitly mention expulsion.

“It seems like they’re pretty intent on fully kicking us out,” he said. “It seems like they’re doing everything in their power to secure that end.”

In a separate email exchange with Wild, he told Kelley that due to their repeated offenses, the “University will likely be asking [the] board to consider [Kelley’s] expulsion from the University.”  

A student conduct case for Kelley was also held after participating in a protest in January calling on WashU to fire Professor Philip Dybvig, who has seven allegations of sexual misconduct against him. 

As a result of that case, Kelley said they were placed on warning and had to write an essay explaining why their conduct was wrong. The University Student Conduct Code defines being on warning as “notice of a finding that it is more likely than not that an offense has been committed and that continuation or repetition of such violation within a specified time period will result in more severe sanctions.” 

In an email exchange with Wild in regards to the current suspension, Kelley asked if it would be possible to attend an on-campus final show for one of their classes. Wild wrote back and said that Kelley’s behavior has shown potential for threat, so they are not allowed to come onto campus.

He went on to say that Kelley did not change their behavior after receiving a warning for protesting against Dybvig, and they had been warned that if they chose to continue violating those standards, then there would be more severe sanctions.

“That, to me, constitutes the ‘substantial threat to the…rights of others to engage in their normal University functions and activities,’” Wild wrote. “Because of this, I am not willing to allow you to be on campus until your case can be heard by a University Student Conduct Board. You are not permitted on campus.” 

Kelley said that, in general, it has been difficult to get concrete information about the conduct hearing from members of administration, including Wild and Associate Dean for Student Conduct and Community Standards, Nicole Gore.

“I’m pretty unclear about that process,” Kelley said.“They haven’t really told me anything because it’s not one of the questions I’m allowed to ask. They’ve been super uninterested in communicating any helpful information at all.” 

Lucas said that he sees the restrictions as a calculated plan to isolate the students.

“​​If I want to tell other people my story, I can’t. I can’t go to the library, talk with my friends, talk to other students who might be curious as to what happened,” Lucas said. “I’m exiled to my apartment basically, and so what does that say about the University actually trying to give me a voice? I don’t have that platform right now.”

Kelley also said both Wild and Gore have been in contact with their professors and have encouraged them to not let the suspended students participate in class.

“Basically they have been saying that there are ways that I could continue doing coursework but [Wild and Gore] are encouraging [my professors] not to let me participate in classes, ” Kelley said. “I’ve asked about ways to finish the semester, and even though filing for an incomplete or doing coursework off campus are options for me, they didn’t present those options to me when I asked.” 

While all three of the suspended students live in independent, off-campus housing, Kelley said because the letter says they are no longer allowed in WashU owned housing, either on or off-campus, that if they did live in that housing, then they would have been evicted. Kelley also noted that they can no longer eat on campus even though they have meal points left for the semester.

“I’ve also been cut off from part of my food source because, even though I have meal points left, I’m not allowed to use them. And that’s also true for other students who have been suspended.”

Cazares said that he would follow the terms of the suspensions out of fear of arrest, even if further protests or other actions are occurring.

“I’m assuming WashU will not let us step foot on campus without facing possible arrest,” he said. “I’m not going to risk myself any further knowing how careful the University is trying to be at this moment.” 

Despite the disciplinary consequences, Kelley said that they don’t regret their decision to protest at the event. 

“I think we really made the university scramble,” Kelley said. “We have generated a lot of media attention, and following the way that the University just totally ignored the Boeing divestment resolution that was passed by SU, they made it clear that messing with the flow of money was the only way we could possibly get them to listen.”

Lucas said that the type of activism they are carrying out is a necessary response to the administration’s decisions. 

“We had to get to this point. The resolution was passed. That was the respectable way to do it. We’ve taken those permitted, traditional, domesticated measures. If that’s not going to work, there’s urgency here,” he said.

In an email to the University students, faculty, and staff, Chancellor Martin wrote that the protest showed a “poor representation of [the WashU] community,” and that no one “has the right to disrupt the ability of others to learn, work, and fully participate in campus life.” 

Additionally, Wild declined a request for comment from Student Life, stating that WashU administration rarely comments on individual disciplinary cases and instead noting that the policy on Demonstrations and Disruptions serves as a guide for how people are held accountable for violations. 

Lucas said that the protestors’ actions could be inspiring to Bear Day attendees.

“I always say it’s a privilege to be a witness to people who stand up for what’s right,” Lucas said. “It’s a privilege for incoming students to see that we could do something, to see that they could do something as well, and that they should feel empowered to take agency when they see something’s wrong.”

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