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UNC law students deliver petition demanding Jamie Marsicano attend graduation

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Protestors walk towards South Building on April 11, 2024, demanding that Jamie Mariscano be able to walk at her graduation.

UNC law students and other community members, many of whom wore graduation robes, marched from the law school's rotunda to the steps of South Building on Thursday to deliver a petition to interim Chancellor Lee Roberts demanding that third-year law student Jamie Marsicano be allowed at graduation.

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Protestors lay down flowers and diplomas during a protest to let Jamie Mariscano walk at graduation outside of South Building on Thurdsay, April 11, 2024

Holding balloons and flowers, they chanted “Hey, hey UNC, give Jamie her degree!” and held signs touting messages like "Let Jamie walk!" and "Bogus ban!" outside South Building.

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Protestors defend Jamie Mariscano's right to walk at graduation outside of South Building on April 11, 2024.

With more than 700 signatures, the petition demands that Marsicano, who is currently attending law classes at Duke University, be allowed to walk the stage with her fellow law school graduates in May. Marsicano was banned from UNC's campus in spring 2023 following her arrest at the South River Music Festival in Atlanta, which was held to protest the construction of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, commonly known as "Cop City," in the Weelaunee Forest.

“I think one of the more insidious things about this ban is that it doesn't just impact Jamie's graduation, it impacts my graduation; it impacts my classmates’ graduation," Nick Hatcher, Marsicano’s friend, third-year law student and event organizer, said.

The Thursday event, called the South Building Music Festival in reference to the festival at which Marsicano was arrestedbegan at 12:30 p.m. Event organizer Meghan Rankins said the demonstration aimed to create a “reverse graduation."

The attendees were instructed to wear robes, whether that be a law robe, graduation robe or bath robe. Participants created their own graduation stage and "gave back" diplomas to represent their rejection of the University's handling of the situation, Rankins said. 

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Protestors lay down flowers and diplomas during a protest to let Jamie Mariscano walk at graduation outside of South Building on Thurdsay, April 11, 2024

Rankins said they also rolled up and placed 111 fake diplomas featuring the content of the petition on South Building's steps — the same number of third-year law students who signed the petition.

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Protestors bring flowers and diplomas to a peaceful protest outside of South Building to defend Jamie Mariscano's right to walk at graduation.

During the event, Rankins and fellow organizer Sunny Frothingham read the petition aloud, as protesters occasionally yelled “Shame!” Representatives from UNC Students for Justice in Palestine also spoke, noting the implications of UNC's decision to ban Marsicano on the First Amendment rights of students, especially for members of underrepresented groups.

“I think it's really important to uplift the fact that Carolina has taken several significant repressive actions against students for First Amendment protected activity that have nothing to do with our campus,” Frothingham said. “To go through and to label students who are advocating for their communities as threats is just deeply troubling.”

The two UNC SJP members said they were arrested at a peaceful protest in Raleigh in February while calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, which resulted in the University giving them honor code violations. One speaker said UNC is weaponizing its honor code to silence pro-Palestinian student activism and attacking students’ rights to peacefully protest.

Frothingham said UNC’s treatment of Marsicano and UNC SJP is a troubling trend, which does not bode well for free speech and academic freedom, especially as the state’s flagship University.

While UNC has a tradition of free speech, Hatcher said the campus ban punishes Marsicano for exercising their First Amendment rights.

“If the University is able to silence and control students' speech that happens off campus in different states about issues that are not ostensibly about UNC or the UNC student body, then what does that mean about what students can say on campus?” he said.

The event ended with a dance party, which Rankins said was to bring back the joy of graduation.

"That's almost like a 'You know what, we're taking back the joy in our education, we're taking back the joy that graduating should give me, we're gonna celebrate whatever the University says,'" they said.

@FunderburkCelia

@dailytarheel | university@dailytarheel.com

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