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Will campus protests hurt students’ employment prospects? HR experts weigh in

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Good morning!

Protests over the war in Gaza have swept U.S. college campuses in recent weeks, with demonstrators building encampments on university lawns and barricading themselves in academic buildings in an effort to spread their message and demand changes from their universities.

But with the school year quickly drawing to a close and many of these students set to graduate, could their civil disobedience make it difficult to land a job?

Some employers, especially smaller businesses, have already proclaimed that they won’t hire students who participated in the protests or even from schools that have been rocked by activism, regardless of the person’s involvement. While some business leaders have voiced their support for protesters, there is anxiety among current and former students that recruiters may rethink the Ivy League altogether and look more toward other collegiate options.

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Recruiting experts who spoke to Fortune are split on what effect the protests will have on students’ hireability, if any. Emily Levine, executive vice president at Career Group Companies, a recruitment and advisory firm, believes there won’t be much impact on students as a whole. “I don't think that simply being a student of one of those schools will necessarily negatively impact their chances of getting a job,” she says. “I also haven't seen companies revoking offers or terminating employees for simply attending a protest. Students have every right to attend a peaceful protest.”

Still, she cautions that there could be consequences for formal police charges. “When it comes to job hunting, prospective employers are going to be looking into your criminal history,” she says. “It's when a protest and students are involved in hate speech, violence, vandalism, and illegal activities that they can be arrested and suspended for [that it could] hurt people's chances of getting positions.” Around 2,200 protesters have reportedly been arrested across the U.S. for illegally occupying college spaces since the protests began in late April.

But other HR experts say that employers have already started to distance themselves from Ivy League schools most closely associated with the protests, adding that it’s part of a larger trend.

“Over the last couple of years, there has been a tendency to move away from the dependency on the Ivy Leagues. Corporate recruiters are looking more to liberal arts colleges or state schools,” Gary Goldenstein, CEO of Whitney Group, a financial executive search firm, tells Fortune. He says some employers are likely to treat all students from these universities the same way, regardless of their protest participation. “I think everyone's going to be painted with that broad brush.”

Tom Gimbel, CEO of the LaSalle Network, a staffing and recruiting firm, agrees that some CEOs may shy away from recruiting students from top colleges with high-profile protests. He mentioned that some business executives, including billionaire hedge fund manager Bill Ackman and sports executive Robert Kraft, have pulled support for universities over the past few months in part for failing to denounce or shut down various forms of student protests.

Gimbel says that CEOs “don't want to get into issues of having to figure out who was part of what or where at Columbia, Harvard, or MIT.” He adds that “You're gonna see a lot of financial services and consulting firms hire kids from non-coastal schools, non-Northeast, and more state colleges.”

Admittedly, protesting students may not want to work in traditionally conservative industries like consulting or finance, or for businesses whose leaders disagree with their beliefs. Around 46% of 18 to 34-year-olds say they would leave their company if their boss’s political views didn’t align with their own. Gen Z staffers expect to bring their whole selves, thoughts, and opinions to work, and care deeply about finding meaning in their workplaces.

It’s also important to note that Ivy League schools, which have some of the brightest minds, have long been a source of entry-level talent for top companies. Despite the protests and impact on schools’ branding, it’s doubtful that recruiters or the companies they represent can bar such a large wellspring of talent as graduation nears.

“If there's one thing we've learned, this country has a very short memory,” Gimbel says. Hiring might shift for a little while, he explains, but the campus conflict situation feels too premature for many HR experts to predict long-lasting implications.

Levine agrees. “I don't know if recruiting is going to change. I think it's too soon to tell,” she says. “And I don't know how long [the protest movement] is going to last.”

Emma Burleigh
emma.burleigh@fortune.com

This story was originally featured on Fortune.com