Last Friday, millions marched in the Climate Strike, an international movement to protest for action to fight climate change. Many more will march in upcoming strikes set to take place in the next few weeks. For most students though, participating in these protests means making a difficult decision: should you attend your classes or march for your beliefs? Because of this dilemma, students in Portland, like at Lewis and Clark College and Reed College, are petitioning their universities to cancel classes on protest days. Many students elsewhere also want to make protesting an excused absence.
However, the majority of the Foghorn staff believes that protesting should not be an excused absence the way illnesses or emergencies are.
Protesting should not be something you do just because it fits your schedule or you want to skip class; it should be because your beliefs are so strong that showing up for a movement may be more important to you than your attendance grade. If someone makes a decision to protest despite any commitments they may miss, the action carries a lot more weight, as they’re saying, “We know the consequences, but we care so much about this topic that we don’t care.” Choosing to protest regardless academic penalty gives a level of power to a movement, as the world sees just how passionate its participants are.
There’s a scene in the 2018 movie “The Hate U Give” in which the main character’s classmates are excited because their school canceled classes so that students could go to a protest against police brutality. From the protagonist’s point of view, we see that the students don’t care about the issue, but simply wanted to get out of class. This is a risk with the climate strike movement. We at the Foghorn are worried that if absences for protests are excused, it will lead to people joining these movements just to skip class.
Also, if a professor makes attending one protest an excusable absence, they would have to make every other protest excusable lest they are accused of political bias. It’s become commonplace to accuse universities of leaning too far to the left, and excusing absences for one protest is a slippery slope that sets the stage for controversy when the next protest rolls around.
If you give schools the power to make certain protests excusable, you’re also giving them the power to dictate what movements are more important. For these institutions to allow us to be excused to protest is for us to agree to play the game on their terms. It signals to schools that our voices and our agency are limited to the amount of freedom they decide to allow us.
The Foghorn supports protesting. However, we don’t support professors excusing absences to attend them — not because we disagree with the act of protesting itself, but because we think excusing these absences will have unintended consequences that could harm our ability to effectively support the movements we’re trying to protest for.