Suspension. It has to be one of the scariest words a student can hear, right next to expulsion, that is. A suspension is usually handed down after a student has violated school code and possibly put his or her peers in danger, therefore leading to that student being temporarily prohibited from school grounds and classes. In the past week, however, some school administrators have threatened suspension not for the best interest of the student body, but to seemingly silence students from exposing a point of view they disagree with. In an age when one’s school record is vital to success and his or her opinions are protected by law, school administrators should not misuse the act of suspension by using it as a threat to make students fall back in line.
When a group of 18 students from the Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation occupied USC’s Bovard Auditorium on April 15 to shed light on workers’ rights and the university’s relationship with a vendor — the parent company of which has ties to factories in Bangladesh and who SCALE claims has contributed to the death of numerous workers — the administration’s response was to claim that students would be given a letter of “interim suspension.”
In an email to the Daily Trojan, Vice Provost of Student Affairs Ainsley Carry said that no letters of interim suspension were handed out and the students were informed of the possibility of suspension prior to the beginning of their sit-in. Furthermore, he added that if students were suspended they “would likely face the loss of any university scholarships.” For a university where tuition costs $42,602 a year, according to the USC Financial Aid website, the possibility of receiving a suspension and losing one’s scholarship is a steep punishment.
Yes, schools have to maintain a sense of decorum and standards for student conduct, but suspension should not be used as a way to stifle the student voice. Students have rights, as was seen in the case of Tinker v. Des Moines, in which the Supreme Court ruled that students have certain constitutional rights and that disciplinary actions by the school should not violate these rights. Though the ruling applied to public schools, private schools should have the same regard for students’ rights.
A few days after students were threatened with suspension and loss of scholarship because of their sit-in here in Los Angeles, a high school senior in Pennsylvania was suspended for asking Miss America Nina Davuluri to his prom, according to New York Magazine. Central York High School administrators, according to the Associated Press, said they were tasked with keeping the rest of the school’s teenage students in order and had warned the now-suspended Patrick Farves of the possible consequences before he conducted his “promposal.” Despite pleas from Miss America to the administration to reconsider their punishment of Farves, the school stood by its decision to give Farves a three-day in-school suspension for asking Miss America to prom against the administration’s wishes.
Over the years, the number of students who have been suspended in the United States has risen. According to the U.S. Department of Education, more than 3.7 million students received out-of-school suspensions in the 2009-2010 school year. Therefore, one out of every nine secondary school students was suspended at least once during that year. Once a suspension is on a student’s record, it stays there. Though the record can become private, the stigma surrounding suspension remains.
During the formative years of high school and college, a student should not be penalized for forming beliefs, standing by them and letting other people know how he or she feels. Students in high school and college should be able to use this time in their lives to explore their ideas and find unique ways to express them. When the administration uses suspension as a way to seemingly stifle the dissenting focus on an issue that has larger social implications rather than using it to remove a bad apple from the crowd, then suspension is not being used correctly. Instead, it is being used as a political tool — and students don’t have an equal one to pry back with.
When students come to the administration with their concerns, they should not be met with stringent punishments, but instead with an open dialogue to discuss why these grievances have been made, and possibly clarify any misunderstandings surrounding concerns of workers’ rights over in Bangladesh. Furthermore, if students are consistently threatened with suspension over seemingly non-harmful crimes, such as sitting in the hallways of the administrative building and asking one of the nation’s prettiest women to prom, then when suspension is actually needed to curb a student’s actions it will not have the same effect. It will not be taken as seriously and threats of suspension will fall on deaf ears. We should reserve suspension for the real crimes and wrongdoings that students could possibly do.
Suspension is a scary action. Yet high school and college students, particularly here at USC, should not feel like inaction on the issues that matter should be the way to prevent suspension. Therefore, high school and colleges administrators across the nation should be wary of threatening to suspend their students. Rather, they should sit and listen to what the students have to say before we decide to kick them out of school for three days. Suspension is meant to discipline, and we should be cautious of enforcing such discipline on students for simply holding opinions on social justice.
Jordyn Holman is a sophomore majoring in print and digital journalism. Her column, “Making the Grade,” runs Wednesdays.