The student body president at the University of Chicago was allowed to graduate this weekend, a seemingly common event, except for the fact that his ability to do so was thrown into doubt the day before the ceremony for assisting school protestors with a sit-in.
Tyler Kissinger’s action, which sparked possible discipline ranging from a warning to expulsion, garnered the support of presidential candidate – and fellow U. of C. alumnus – Bernie Sanders.
After the New York Times wrote about Kissinger, Sanders tweeted a link to the story along with a message that read: “Progress takes place when young people pick up the torch and say, ‘This is a world we are going to change.’ ”
Protestors staged sit-in demanding changes
The episode began on May 19 when Kissinger, 21, of Lewisville, North Carolina, got into a locked administrative building by telling a security officer he was there on student government business, according to media reports.
He then propped open a door to allow in about 30 other protestors, who held a sit-in calling for, among other things, divesting from fossil fuels, paying university workers a minimum wage of $15 an hour and ending what they termed the “racist and opaque policing practices” of the university’s police force.
“Faculty and staff want a serious and democratic say in how this school is run, and students deserve one too,” Kissinger said in a Facebook post.
On the day before graduation, Kissinger, who majored in public policy, faced a disciplinary committee, which accused him of “premeditated and dishonest behavior” and contributing to “an unsafe situation in the building.”
He didn’t know if he would be allowed to graduate on Saturday, he said. Ultimately, however, the committee placed him on a form of probation, which enabled him to participate in graduation ceremonies.
Citing privacy laws, the university would not comment specifically on Kissinger’s situation but tells PEOPLE in a statement, “Freedom of expression and dissent are fundamental values of the University of Chicago .The University’s policies do not prevent students from engaging in protest, and the University does not discipline students for speaking out on any issue.”
However, the school said, “All students are expected to follow the policies set forth in the Student Manual.”
Spokesman Jeremy Manier tells PEOPLE that the university switched from unlocked to locked doors on the administration building as part of an update of security systems and after an online gun threat that closed campus for a day last year.