The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Monday, May 20, 2024 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

Students petition for UNC law student Jamie Marsicano to attend graduation despite campus ban

Jamie Marsicano stands outside of the Duke University School of Law, where she is finishing her Juris Doctor, on Monday, April 8, 2024.

Jamie Marsicano, who will graduate from the UNC School of Law in May, hasn’t stepped foot on University grounds in over a year. 

She can’t.

Former UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz barred Marsicano from campus last spring following a domestic terrorism charge in DeKalb County, Ga. Marsicano was one of 23 people who were arrested at a March 2023 outdoor music festival in Atlanta held to protest the construction of the controversial law enforcement training facility called the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, commonly known as “Cop City.” The charges remain unindicted. 

Now, Marsicano, who uses she/they pronouns interchangeably, is finishing her UNC degree at Duke University School of Law under the schools’ interinstitutional program. 

Their UNC classmates and friends say they miss them.

So much so that more than 100 people protested the ban in April 2023, marching from the law school to South Building, where they delivered a petition to allow Marsicano back on campus. UNC community members protested again in September 2023. 

A year later, her fellow third-year law students are asking  interim Chancellor Lee Roberts — who was not a part of the original decision to ban Marsicano — through a petition to allow her to walk with them at their May 10 graduation.

“Jamie has walked alongside us and supported us as we’ve lost loved ones, struggled to pull together funds to pay for medical expenses, and welcomed new children into our lives,” the petition says. “Just like all of us, they have earned their degree and their right to be honored and celebrated at graduation.”

As of Monday, more than 740 people signed the petition, which closes at 5 p.m. on Wednesday. 

Students plan to walk from the UNC School of Law to deliver the petition to South Building on Thursday at 12:30 p.m. The demonstration, called South Building Music Festival, was promoted on Instagram by an account named @letjamiewalk. Attendees were asked to wear a robe, be it a graduation or a bath robe. 

Approximately 53 percent of the third-year students at the law school have signed it, organizers said. 

Meghan Rankins, Nicholas Hatcher and Sunny Frothingham — all third-year law students, organizers and friends of Marsicano — said she was a leader at the law school.

Frothingham described her absence on campus as “bizarre.” 

“Jamie makes me feel like I can be who I want to be at the law school, because she is so unapologetically her at all times,” Rankins said

The arrest

The site of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center has drawn the attention of a variety of critics, including protesters of police militarization and environmental activists concerned about damage to a large urban forest in a predominantly Black community. 

For Marsicano, the death of "Cop City" protester Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, who was shot by Georgia state troopers in January 2023, brought new urgency to the fight. They decided to attend the Atlanta South River Music Festival in early March 2023 after learning about the event on Instagram. 

On March 5, 2023 — the second day of the festival — police surveillance footage at the training facility shows masked activists damaging equipment at the site and throwing fireworks at officers. 

Marsicano, who was arrested the same day, along with nearly two dozen protesters, said she was not near the site or among those who damaged property. The music festival was about three-quarters of a mile from the training center and the arrests at the festival took place more than an hour after the violence occurred, according to The Associated Press.

“While at the festival, the police raided it and indiscriminately grabbed people,” Marsicano said. “I was one of the people arrested.”

Marsicano was denied bail and spent three weeks in jail, where she celebrated her 30th birthday. She was released March 23, 2023.

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.

In a March 5, 2023 news release, the Atlanta Police Department alleged that the 23 people who were arrested “used the cover of a peaceful protest of the proposed Atlanta Public Safety Training Center to conduct a coordinated attack on construction equipment and police officers.”

Democratic DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston announced in June 2023 that she would not prosecute any of the related domestic terrorism cases due to a difference in philosophy between her office and law enforcement. Georgia’s Republican Attorney General Chris Carr’s office took over the prosecution of the cases the same month. 

"At this point, I have decided it is best that we allow [the attorney general's office] to move forward with the charges they feel are warranted,” Boston said in a statement.  

 In a June 2023 social media post, Carr said his office "will not hesitate to uphold the law," referring to the domestic terrorism cases.

Georgia broadened its definition of domestic terrorism in 2017. Previously, the state's definition criminalized acts intended to or reasonably likely to kill or injure at least 10 people. The current statute includes attempts to kill or seriously harm people or disable or destroy “critical infrastructure” with the intent to force policy change. 

“The amendment added a stigmatizing label and a harsher punishment — up to 35 years in prison — to property crimes that were already illegal, simply because of accompanying political expression critical of government policy,” the American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement.

But the domestic terrorism charges also served as the foundation for a broader case that Carr's office is seeking under the state’s racketeering law.

Marsicano, and 60 other people, including all of the 23 people arrested for domestic terrorism, is also facing an indictment in Fulton County, Ga. They are being prosecuted for alleged involvement in a criminal conspiracy against the police training facility. In the 109-page indictment, Carr calls the defendants anti-police anarchists who joined a "conspiracy in an attempt to prevent the training center from being built.” 

The process 

Following her release from jail, Marsicano received an email from the Dean of Students' office informing them of their interim suspension from UNC and requirement to immediately notify the University of any intention to return to campus. If they wanted to return, they would have to meet with representatives from the Dean of Students' office and the UNC School of Law.

Marsicano could request a hearing with the Emergency Evaluation and Action Committee — which she did. 

The committee handles situations requiring a more rapid response than the UNC Honor System, specifically emergencies that “require a University response because they pose some danger to the University,” according to UNC policy. The EEAC met with Marsicano and their attorney on March 30, 2023, exactly one week after her release from jail.

Maxine Eichner, a UNC law professor who had Marsicano in two of her classes, acted as Marsicano's personal representation to the committee. She said the UNC School of Law administration and faculty were supportive of Marsicano throughout the process.

"I was there because Jamie asked me to be there," Eichner said. "Not only did I have absolutely no qualms about Jamie presenting a safety risk, I thought quite the opposite — that the community would really lose something as a result of losing Jamie's presence."

While she thought the hearing was fair, Eichner said having heard the evidence, she felt strongly that the chancellor's decision was unjust and Marsicano should be allowed on campus.

"Jamie was doing what we want our law school students to be doing, which is supporting the cause of justice," she said.

The decision

Documents obtained by The Daily Tar Heel show that Guskiewicz informed Marsicano in April 2023 of his decision to ban her from UNC's campus, based on the recommendation of the EEAC and UNC's police chief. She was also barred from any activities sponsored by UNC or the UNC School of Law. 

Guskiewicz said Marsicano could complete their spring 2023 courses via recording or asynchronous participation — not via Zoom — and future class enrollment would require EEAC approval. The DTH was unable to reach Guskiewicz for comment before the time of publication.

“I felt like UNC administration [on the] main campus was saying, ‘You can’t go to class, you can’t participate in Zoom, you can't be in any clubs. And if the law school wants to figure it out with you from there, then that's on them,’” Marsicano said

Despite the policy claiming the EEAC’s decision to suspend a student should not be “construed as an adjudication of the student’s guilt or innocence of the violation charged,” Marsicano said they felt like the process presumed guilt.

“From my legal education that I learned at UNC, I am able to articulate exactly how I feel it’s violative of my constitutional rights and articulate that this feels like a due process violation,” Marsicano said

If the committee determines that a theoretical guilty verdict would pose a serious threat or danger to the community, the EEAC policy states that it will suspend the student indefinitely “to minimize risk.”

“There’s no reason, even if we assume that Jamie was guilty, that it would have any relevance or any threat against students on campus,” Nicholas Hatcher, third-year law student and Marsicano's friend, said.

Marsicano appealed the chancellor’s decision to UNC System President Peter Hans. In late May 2023, documents obtained by The DTH show that Hans affirmed Guskiewicz’s ban, calling it “reasonable” considering Marsicano’s felony charge and noted that the courtroom is a more "appropriate forum" for defending Marsicano's innocence. 

The UNC System did not respond to The DTH's requests for comment by the time of publication.

When Marsicano appealed for permission to attend in-person classes at UNC for the fall 2023 and spring 2024 semester, she was denied both times because the criminal process for her domestic terrorism charge remained unresolved.

Marsicano said UNC School of Law professors and administration made accommodations for her to finish spring 2023 courses asynchronously in addition to helping her enroll in Duke law school classes this academic year, where she could work toward her degree in person.

Compared to the “adversarial” process at UNC regarding their felony charge, Marsicano said Duke’s process was the opposite. They felt welcome at Duke and met with the university administration on campus.

“How UNC is treating me, yeah it’s shitty for me, but its implications are so far beyond me,” she said.

Marsicano will graduate from law school in a month. 

But if UNC's decision remains unchanged, they will not be able to walk across the stage in Carmichael Arena come May. And as they watch their friends become attorneys, they will continue to support those going through the criminal justice system. 

Marsicano won’t be able to take the bar exam herself until her criminal charges are resolved — a process that could take years.

@emmymrtin | @dailytarheel

Emmy Martin

Emmy Martin is the 2023-24 editor-in-chief of The Daily Tar Heel. She has previously served as the DTH's city & state editor and summer managing editor. Emmy is a junior pursuing a double major in journalism and media and information science.