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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Thursday, April 18, 2024

Tufts Climate Action students penalized amid changes to judicial process

Protesters who occupied Ballou Hall during April's Tufts Climate Action sit-in have been subjected to disciplinary action.

Returning members of Tufts Climate Action (TCA) who participated in last semester's sit-in protest in Ballou Hall from April 22 to April 24 were placed on probation over the summer recess.

Students were notified individually of the disciplinary action on May 15, a week after final exams ended. They were told that they had received varying levels of probation for disobeying policies listed on the "Gatherings, Demonstrations, Protests and Disturbances" section of the University Code of Conduct, according to TCA member Grace Cooper, who was placed on Probation II.

At least six students received Probation II following the sit-in, Cooper, a sophomore, said.

The punishment came as a surprise to the TCA student activists, since Tufts Labor Coalition (TLC) student protesters didn't receive any punishment when they did a sit-in in Ballou Hall last year for 33 hours, according to former TLC President Lior Appel-Kraut, a junior.

According to Dean of Student Affairs Mary Pat McMahon, this discrepancy in disciplinary action is due to the fact that TCA occupied the private office of University President Anthony Monaco, while TLC conducted its sit-in in the public Coolidge Room.

“There wasn’t an occupation of a space that was a private office, and that for us is a major distinction,” McMahon said in relation to the TLC case.

Additionally, TCA, unlike TLC, is not a TCU-recognized student group and can therefore not be subject to disciplinary action as an organization; only individual students can be penalized.

As the Daily reported in an April 26 article, Dean of Undergraduate and Graduate Students John Barker told TCA members about possible non-permanent record sanctions for seniors during the sit-in.

McMahon also previously told the Daily that TCA students were informed about disciplinary procedures. In a letter to protesters on April 24, Dean McMahon and Judicial Affairs Administrator Mickey Toogood warned protesters that “refusal to leave will be grounds for individual disciplinary action.”  

Still, protesters said they did not know what the extent of the punishment would be at the time.

“They kept saying, ‘By being here there is the possibility that you will be punished.’... It was very vague the entire time,” Youcha said.

Some of the confusion surrounding the punishment is due to changes in the student judicial process for the 2015-2016 academic year. According to Toogood, the changes eliminate Disciplinary Probation I and II. He added that the new format for sanctions begins with a warning and escalates as a reprimand, disciplinary probation, formal censure, suspension, indefinite suspension and expulsion.

Despite these changes to the system, TCA protesters given Disciplinary Probation II will maintain that punishment throughout this academic year and will not be in good standing with the university, according to a letter TCA students received from the university.

“There are very few automatic triggers in the system, and the reason for that is that what probation does ... is take a student out of good standing,” Toogood said. “So being out of good standing can affect certain things that a student can or can't do.”

Students who left Ballou Hall earlier in the April protest received Probation I, while students who stayed longer received Probation II, according to Cooper.

Cooper received Probation II, but has challenged the disciplinary decision and will have a hearing in October. She said she's confused as to why she received Probation II, despite having left earlier than some protesters who only received Probation I.

“We are really questioning how they chose who got what,” TCA protester Emma Youcha, a sophomore, said.

Students who are not in good standing may not be able to participate in varsity sports programs or hold office in student organizations, according to the Student Judicial Process handbook. Standing with the university can also affect students’ roles in Greek organizations, in Residential Life staff and as peer advisors.

Some members of TCA are concerned about campus employment opportunities. Cooper says that administrators told her that her job with the Academic Resource Center (ARC) could be affected should the ARC see fit.

“It’s up to the ARC,” Cooper said.

TCA protesters said they were told the punishment would not affect financial aid, though according to The Bulletin there are some scholarship funds that require students to remain in good standing with the university. In addition, parents are notified of disciplinary probation.

Sophomore TCA member Elizabeth Cultrara said she is confused by the terms of probation.

“What am I actually not allowed to do?” Cultrara asked. “It was never laid out.”

Cultrara also reported that probation appears on unofficial transcripts that can be accessed through Student Information Services (SIS), potentially making it difficult to apply for jobs or internships that require transcripts.

Youcha is worried that the decision could jeopardize her ability to study abroad, since students who are not in good standing with the university may not study abroad or apply to study abroad through a Tufts program. According to the Student Handbook, students who choose to study abroad through a non-Tufts program while they are not in good standing might not have their credits accepted for transfer. However, her one-year probation term ends before her junior year, so she still may be able to apply and study abroad in the spring semester.

“That’s part of why I took the decision in May,” Youcha said, referring to her choice not to challenge the punishment after Cultrara and other group members asked for hearings but failed to overturn the initial dean’s decision.

Youcha believes that the punishment was meant in part to discourage activism on campus.

“It feels like we’re being targeted for activism to stop further actions from our group, and to dissuade other groups from trying anything because of the severity of the punishment that they’re doling out,” Youcha said.

Cooper agreed with Youcha's sentiment.

“I feel like the purpose of this disciplinary action is to stifle activism and make sure some of the core members of our group don’t do any escalated actions,” she said.

Cultrara admitted that TCA did breach some of the university policies on "Gatherings, Demonstrations, Protests and Disturbances," but said the punishment did not fit the violations.

“We did break rules and I’m owning up to that,” Cultrara said. “[But] we think that the disciplinary sanctions they put on us were too severe.”

Kim Thurler, the executive director of public relations for Tufts University, did not respond to the Daily’s request for comment.