As Hillsdale College transitioned to online classes to comply with an order from Michigan’s health department, about 35 Hillsdale students traveled to the state capitol on Nov. 20 to protest the regulation.
Seniors Michaela Stiles and Averi Bott, along with sophomore Nick Treglia, organized a “Strike Down the Shutdown” movement that led to the rally in Lansing. The group also distributes resources about the negative side effects of lockdowns, such as mental health problems from isolation and a weakened economy, through a new social media account by the same name.
Bott said they came up with the idea almost immediately after learning on Nov. 16 that classes were moving online.
“I was in Jilly Beans when we got the email that in-person classes were shutting down and I was very deeply moved and really upset,” Bott said. “I felt it was a huge violation of my rights as a American citizen that they would deprive me of my privately-funded education. The state government should have nothing to do with Hillsdale College.”
Stiles said their first step was to contact groups across the state to spread the word.
“We realized that we probably weren’t the only ones fed up, so we reached out to College Republicans all across the state and we got in touch with senators, representatives, and touched base with almost every county Republican group in Michigan,” Stiles said. “We reached out to as many grassroots groups as we could possibly think of. We were on five radio shows leading up to the event.”
On the day of the protest, a caravan of cars met in the parking lot of the George C. Roche Sports Complex to travel to Lansing as a group. The event included a car rally and protesters on foot. The student leaders stood in the back of a truck with megaphones as they read excerpts from the Western Heritage reader and chanted “let us learn.”
Stiles said the event was organized quickly and the short notice of the event led to fewer attendees than she would have liked, but Stiles said the protest was still a success.
“It was really cool. I felt very united with my team,” Stiles said. “We had cars driving by honking their horns and waving their flags and cheering us on. We’re not alone, we just need to have the courage to speak up.”
Bott said she was thankful for the Hillsdale students who showed up to support their cause.
“It was a blast, and what was really refreshing was how happy it was. In all of the pictures there’s no angry, bitter faces; no threatening screams,” Bott said. “It was just a group of students who are worried about their American rights.”
The group did not represent the college at the protest, but according to the Strike Down the Shutdown Facebook page, Hillsdale College released a statement to the organizers.
“Hillsdale College finds the recent state mandates imposed in an attempt to control COVID-19 improper, ill-informed, and harmful,” the statement read. “Instead of protecting those at risk and enhancing the capacity to treat the ill, these mandates subvert citizens’ responsibility for themselves and their communities, violate the rights of students and institutions of learning, and inflict actual harm on education, the economy, families, and public health itself.”
Sophomore Anna Swartz attended the protest with several friends and said events like it are part of the reason she attended Hillsdale College.
“I went to the Lansing protest because students have a right to learn in a classroom with their peers and personally interact with their professors,” Swartz said. “Experiences like this make me proud of my fellow students and proud to be at a place like Hillsdale.”