University of Georgia senior from Sandy Hook: UGA should stand with students in March 14 protest

Coming from Sandy Hook, Ct., the scene of a horrific shooting in 2012 at an elementary school in which 20 children and six educators died, University of Georgia senior Greg Hennessey understands the devastation wrought on a Florida town by the deadly school shooting there.

He is also amazed at the refusal of the students from Parkland, Fl., to remain silent in the face of laws that allow killers to rampage through a school with a weapon designed for maximum military slaughter.

And the courage of those Florida teens has set off a chain reaction among students nationwide, thousands of whom plan to walk out of classes on March 14 for 17 minutes to honor the dead of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and demand change so more students and teachers don’t die.

Hennessey expected UGA to stand with and for those students. So did many Georgia parents, who are asking why no public college in the state appears on a lengthy list of campuses nationwide that will not penalize students suspended for walking out next week. (You can see the empty response the Regents gave me here.)

Hundreds of campuses, including Emory, Agnes Scott, Duke, Yale, MIT, and the University of Virginia, have assured applicants they respect their social activism and will not penalize them for any disciplinary actions that may result from participating in the walkout. (Colleges require students to notify them of any disciplinary actions and the schools retain the right to rescind an admission offer.)

So far, Hennessey and parents been let down by the lack of response from UGA, as he explains in this essay. Originally, Hennessey sent me an email about his disappointment with UGA. I asked the finance major to turn the email into a guest column. He agreed.

He also has launched a petition to get UGA to act. It is here.

By Greg Hennessey

Immediately after the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that took 17 lives and injured 14 others, young adults in the Parkland community rose to prominence for their eloquence and poignant advocacy against inaction on gun violence in the United States. As a native of Sandy Hook, Ct., I was overwrought with emotion.

I wish, at the time in 2012, I could have had the courage and audacity that these young adults across the country have displayed in the past few weeks. Who could have known, though, that such gun violence would continue to plague our country.

These students, however, understand exactly the moment of history we now occupy. These students are our future leaders, and most academic institutions are supporting their active participation in civil discourse. UGA, and other Georgia public institutions, are not.

It is March 5, 19 days after the Parkland tragedy, and the University of Georgia has yet to release a statement assuring current and prospective students that their admission to UGA will not be impacted by consequences associated with their participation in peaceful, lawful protest.

I have contacted higher officials at UGA to express my disdain and concern with UGA for remaining silent on this issue. I have contacted an admissions director, as well as the UGA Admissions Office, via Twitter on February 26th, and was told there was "hope" that a statement would be released the following day. It was not, and has not been, released.

I reached out, again, to the same admissions officer via email for clarification. I asked why, exactly, the Office of Admissions had neglected to act on this issue. I have yet to receive a response. I proceeded to contact a prominent leader within the University of Georgia, asking why the university had yet to act.

This leader acknowledged I was not alone among current and prospective students asking this question. They expressed their own concern and support for the lack of a statement. This leader forwarded my email to a "very high level."

I have heard nothing since then.

Soon after, I reached out to multiple professors, urging them to contact the Office of Admissions at UGA to voice their concern, too. I have also organized a small group of students to do the same. I have emphasized to those who I have contacted that this transcends politics.

I have also emphasized that the finest, most respected academic institutions are always at the forefront at an historical time like this. As of March 5, at least 305 colleges and universities including MIT, Yale, Emory and The University of Michigan, have released statements regarding this issue. I want the University of Georgia to be included among the most highly regarded academic institutions, but silence, at a time like this, will only hold us back.

We will not let this be forgotten. We will not allow UGA to stay silent.