Graduation season is still in the air, a time for tears of joy and sighs of relief—for those who make it that far.
On May 18, Andrew Jones, the valedictorian at Amite High School in Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana, was stripped of his gown and blocked from taking the stage. His offense? Failing to shave his goatee, a school requirement that local civil-rights activists point out isn’t always enforced. “You’re graduating for all the hard work,” Jones says, “and it just got taken away from me like that.”
For similar reasons, some students didn’t get near the graduation stage. Across the country, black and Latino students are more likely to live under strict dress codes and get targeted for violating them. Under the rule of the “school-to-prison pipeline,” infractions lead to suspensions and, in turn, pushout and criminalization.
This is the other side of graduation: a reminder of how so many students get funneled out. In 2014, students at Michigan State University held an alternative commencement ceremony in recognition of survivors of sexual violence, who often withdraw from school or get pressured to leave. (Meanwhile on the main stage, the university gave an honorary degree to conservative columnist George Will, who had written that being assaulted is a “coveted status that confers privileges.”)
In this post, six students write about the factors that make it difficult to stay in school—from punitive discipline to outright violence—and how they’re fighting back.