How Might We Inspire Social Change on College Campuses

I attend Southern Illinois University, a mid-size college campus thats enrollment and funding keeps getting smaller and smaller as the years go by. I think an important question to address is why don’t more people want to go to SIU like they did back when enrollment peaked in the mid 1990s.

I think one of the many reasons that students aren’t coming and aren’t staying at SIU is because society is rapidly evolving and SIU isn’t. The retention rate for freshman to return as sophomores is 68% and the graduation rate is 45%. The retention rates could be higher, but I think the most disappointing number is that 45% of students that attend SIU don’t graduate. What are we doing that isn’t supporting students enough?

SIU continually fails to validate its students thoughts, opinions, and feelings. An important part of development, in my opinion, is to be able to have the freedom to have your voice be heard and at least respected. A critique that a lot of people have about millennials right now is that they constantly need praise and validation in order to form any kind of success. I think that it’s important to have that support early on in order for students to grow into adults that are able to, in turn, validate and empower others to become leaders, change-makers, innovators, and successful adults in society.

As someone that received very little validation as a child and young adult, I think that has affected my confidence and ability to thrive as a college student. I can admit that I need validation from my peers in order to make basic decisions, but the important thing that I want to point out is that the validation that I’m getting from my peers, co-workers, and adults in my life has allowed me to gain the confidence I need in order to believe in myself as an individual, as a leader, and as a change-maker. As time goes by, I need less and less validation, and if we work on empowering others and validating their thoughts, opinions, and feelings, they will slowly grow to empower others and need less validation.

I think one way that SIU can work on validating their student body is simply by listening. Right now, the Chancellor and President of SIU are constantly trying to respond right away, and most of the time, they give very unsubstantial and disappointing responses. Their responses don’t actually create any change, they simply frustrate those that read about the open forums and other events that the Chancellor holds.

The administration needs to focus on listening and consulting what other universities have been doing to evolve as society changes. SIU is stuck in the 1960s where men run the world, racism is real, and nobody recognizes or cares about diversity and inclusivity. Other universities, like the University of Texas at Austin and many others, have students bonding together to create change — I want SIU students to feel like if they put themselves out there, that they will at least be heard. I believe that the Carbondale community is ready for change; I attended the Women’s March back in January and I didn’t see as many students there as I had hoped. Why aren’t student interested in attending these important civic engagement events? I think the answer to that question is that students feel so disempowered and are tired of fighting for change and are never seeing the results that they want. In simple terms, they’ve lost a lot of hope.

What are some ways to bring back small amounts of hope in order to empower students that feel oppressed and marginalized on a daily basis? I don’t have all of the answers to this question, but I think firstly, it’s important for students to have a forum to all come together and brainstorm and bond through their struggles and problems that they have with SIU. I don’t think the administration should be involved in sponsoring these types of events — I think it’s important for students to feel like they are creating the change on their own. Collaborating and creating unity with other students that may not have the same problems and issues with SIU will allow for diverse voices to be heard in a safe and inclusive environment.

Once students have come together on their own recognizance, they can come up with a way to present this information with plausible changes to the administration. If enough people are involved from all different races, genders, sexualities, etc. come together, they will be able to prove a point to the administration that it’s time to change.

I know a lot of students were ready to see change last year on the days coming up to May 2nd. I think that the movement failed because nobody was united. I want to pull all of the groups that were so passionate about change together again, and see what we can do to propose the necessary change that SIU needs.

I believe the answer to creating social change on campus, and change in general, will stem from students coming together, sharing their stories, worries, frustrations, and struggles, which will create a sense of unity that will empower everyone. I am committed to bringing students together on campus, and I know that the rest of the student body and most of its faculty and staff, are ready to see SIU go back to thriving and being recognized as a fantastic institution that overcame financial and social turmoil over the course of the past decade. As President Obama said at the end of his fantastic two terms to instill some hope before the orange Cheeto became our “leader”: “Yes, we can. Yes, we did. Yes, we can.” I believe that we still can.