Hillsdale stu­dents Ian Renkes, Michaela Stiles, Jonathan Burton, Averi Bott, and Richard Saltsman protested Michi­gan’s latest shutdown in Lansing last week. Nick Treglia | Courtesy

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.”