EXCLUSIVE: Liberty activists defeat pepper spray ban at UHart

West Hartford, Connecticut, where the university is located, 'has a crime rate that is higher than 90% of the state's cities and towns of all sizes.'

Support for student self defense, according to one student, is 'near universal.'

Young Americans for Liberty successfully expanded student self-defense rights at the University of Hartford (UHart) in Connecticut following a months-long grassroots campaign aimed at getting college administrators to drop their ban on pepper spray.

Daniel Gonzalez-Allende, YAL’s Student Rights Strategist, told Campus Reform that his organization began its campaign after a student reached out complaining about not being allowed to bring pepper spray into their dorm. 

Gonzalez-Allende then got into contact with Anthony Pecoraro, the Connecticut State Chair for YAL, who began working with students at UHart to change its policy.

Pecoraro, in an interview with Campus Reform, described YAL’s efforts to expand student self-defense options as a “grassroots” petition campaign that drew “a lot of support from students all over the ideological spectrum.” Students circulated the petition amongst their peers, held a rally, and pressured campus administrators through phone calls.

He contrasted the pepper spray campaign with other initiatives YAL has spearheaded targeting vaccine mandates. 

Support for student self-defense, according to Pecoraro, is “near universal.” At the time the petition was delivered to the university president, it had garnered 455 signatures, more than ten percent of the undergraduate student population.

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Both Pecoraro and Gonzalez-Allende told Campus Reform that the push to end “tyrannical” policies like the pepper spray ban at UHart, is part of a broader national effort dubbed the “Student Rights Campaign” being undertaken by YAL to protect and expand student rights on college campuses. 

Per Pecoraro, the initiative began back in 2021, and they have taken on 45 “tyrannical” campus policies this semester alone, including policies regarding COVID-19. 

Gonzalez-Allende told Campus Reform that YAL staged a rally on campus the day students delivered the petition to the university’s president. According to a press release put out by the organization, “dozens” of students were in attendance. Gonzalez-Allende attributed the victory on campus to “the hard work of our UHart YAL activists.”

Both YAL representatives highlighted that there is a substantial amount of crime in the neighborhood where the UHart is located, heightening the need for self-defense options. 

“Campus is in a very dangerous part of town,” Gonzalez-Allende told Campus Reform. “Students were left vulnerable by a ban on common self-defense tools.”

[RELATED: YAL group rejected, told to find ‘other ways’ to be libertarian]

West Hartford, where the university is located, “has a crime rate that is higher than 90% of the state’s cities and towns of all sizes.” According to university statistics, there have been 22 rapes, 37 burglaries, 18 instances of “dating violence” and 11 stalkers on campus between 2019 and 2021. These figures do not include students victimized off campus.

Pecoraro claimed that the university didn’t provide a concrete justification for their ban beyond vague allusions to “student safety.” He told Campus Reform that such opacity is common with university administrators. 

Additionally, while the university did change its policy to allow pepper spray, it didn’t inform YAL or student activists of the change, leaving activists and the study body to incidentally discover the change roughly three weeks after the petition was delivered, according to Pecoraro. 

The University of Hartford has been contacted for comment; this article will be updated accordingly.