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Students draft Bill of Rights

by Mike Disman / Beacon Staff • April 19, 2012

When Colby Jackson applied to live off-campus for the first time, he thought he would be saving money.

However, the junior communication studies major said he was surprised when the college notified him that he would automatically be losing $5,000 of his scholarship, an Emerson grant, when living off-campus.

“Apparently it was in the fine print,” said Jackson. “But it’s ridiculous that they’re not up front about it.”

Jackson said that he felt his ability to pay tuition was endangered by a loophole, and in January, he and three other students from Emerson’s Pre-Law Society teamed up to write a Student Bill of Rights.

“It’s a limit on the power of the school, protecting our rights,” said Jackson “[It’s] ensuring that the school can’t do certain things because they’re a violation of our rights.”

Jackson said the group found it strange that Emerson did not already have a pre-existing Student Bill of Rights. Almost every college that the students researched—both large state schools and small private universities—have documents in place to protect students from college policies, Jackson said. 

Similar documents have been lobbied for within recent years at other Boston- area schools, including Tufts University and Suffolk University, according to student newspapers from the colleges. 

The current Undergraduate Student Handbook does address some of the same rights proposed in the student bill such as the right to privacy, freedom of communication, and freedom from discrimination. 

Abagael McCauley, a freshman marketing and political communication double major who helped write the document, said that students are often unaware of the power they have to change their circumstances.

“Like anything else, it doesn’t get done because students don’t realize that they have the power to do it, or the initiative,”said McCauley. “It’s only now coming about because we now have a forum, a reputable way that we can get it out there.”

McCauley and others began work on the bill at the beginning of spring semester and finished it in February. The bill was then evaluated by faculty and Student Government Association officials before it was presented to the entire SGA at a meeting April 10.

While the Student Government Association seemed to approve of the bill as a whole, President Tau Zaman questioned the document’s language. 

Jackson said he believes the school will attempt to block the bill from being implemented because of financial and administrative motivation, but if SGA and the student body support it, it will work.

“I think that’s the only way we’re really going to see change,” said Jackson. “We need the student body and all the donating alums to embrace it.”

Although the bill will not have much immediate impact if passed, according to Jackson, members of Pre-Law Society said they hope the college will work with students to better understand their rights.

“As an Emerson student who will be graduating in a year, I want to know that the college isn’t taking advantage of us,” said Jackson “I think it’ll be better for students if the college is more of a team player. I think the school will also attract better students and more students if they know that Emerson is working with its students.”