‘Not making any announcement on behalf of UBC’: Ono tweets support for student’s engagement in peaceful demonstrations

Last Wednesday, UBC President Santa Ono tweeted a statement assuring prospective students that their applications to UBC will not be affected by their engagement in peaceful demonstrations.

“We consider such involvement to be a core freedom of citizens of democratic nations,” he said.

Ono wrote the tweet on the same day that thousands of high school students across the US staged a nation-wide walkout to advocate for tougher gun control laws. The protests were a response to the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, in which 17 people were killed and several others injured.

After some school districts in the US threatened to punish high school students with suspensions if they participated in the walkout, many colleges and universities announced that students’ applications will not be compromised if they choose to engage in peaceful protest.

According to Open Culture, over 175 post-secondary institutions in the US have made statements such as these.

However, in a written statement sent to The Ubyssey, Ono said that his tweet will not be followed by any additional action from the university.

“This was a statement to make it clear that peaceful protest by prospective UBC students regarding any matter (in this case, gun control) would not adversely influence their admission to UBC,” he said.

“Similar statements were made by other institutions when it became clear that some students would be disciplined for their involvement in the peaceful protest. As we receive many applications from students studying in the US, I wanted it to be clear that their admission to UBC would not be negatively impacted by their activism.”

Leslie Dickson, associate director of UBC Public Affairs, framed the matter similarly.

“Santa Ono is quite active on social media and frequently engages on topics that are being discussed on a given day on platforms like Twitter,” she said in an emailed statement. “So when he tweeted, he was just engaging in the conversation on social media on this topic and not making any announcement on behalf of UBC.”

While most of the replies to Ono’s tweet were positive, professor of anthropology and Board of Governors member Charles Menzies critiqued its ambiguous use of the word “peaceful,” arguing that it can be hard to tell who provoked a violent incident in a protest that turned violent.

Philosophy professor Dr. Alan Richardson also joined in the thread to offer up the example of the 1997 APEC protests at UBC, where protestors speaking out against globalization were pepper-sprayed and arrested by the police. An APEC report concluded that the RCMP used excessive force, but the protestors received charges nonetheless.

Menzies also pondered how Ono’s statement would apply to students from white power groups engaging in protests against people of colour.