The Case for Student Activism on College Campuses
A call to arms for current and emerging scholar-activists.
The history of student activism in the United States dates back to the 1600s, when Harvard students protested against the leadership practices of the university president. Since then, college students have continued to protest for issues based both on and off campus, reaching a peak during the civil rights era of the 1960s. However, today, a 2020 survey suggests, only about 50% of college students consider themselves to be somewhat engaged in politics and activism.
We believe this needs to change. Colleges and universities are a place of higher education, but learning does not involve only material taught in a classroom. Many students gain their first exposures to different points of views and different ways of life, allowing their views to mature. With that maturity comes a need for civic responsibility. As young adults, college students do have the ability to make a change. Their voices have power, but they often do not realize this or care to use it. If they do, they’ll quickly discover that they may never have the chance again to be so effective or work with so many like-minded people.
Today, some common campaign causes involve protesting against discrimination and racism, combating climate change, and trying to reform the healthcare system. On-campus causes have also gained prominence in the last few decades, such as protesting administrative policy, campus safety in relation to gun control and sexual assault, and fighting rising tuition increases and attendance costs.
There are lots of way that students can get involved in activism on varying levels. An important, basic one is to vote. Young adults are the least represented group in polling, mostly due to voter apathy. Unfortunately, by not voting, they are forgoing their chance to slowly but surely shape the nation. College students can also make a difference by educating themselves by consciously consuming diverse and educational media, and by taking courses to learn more about the world and other perspectives.
Another great way for college students to become active in the community is to join a student organization or even found one of their own. These organizations draw together people who can educate each other and work together effectively toward a common goal. They can also volunteer with the college or individually to make a tangible difference in the local community and connect with those outside their college.
Finally, students can attend rallies and protests for causes that they are passionate about. A proliferation of advocacy opportunities to support racialized and minoritized students, climate change, political initiatives, and other areas of social, cultural, economic, and political interest are bound to manifest this coming year. After all, most of you, especially incoming first-year students, have been cooped up in your parents basement taking in education through a black mirror and you are thirst for human interaction. What better way to expend that energy than building an organization, contributing to a cause, and/or otherwise supporting your community through action?
Whatever you choose to do, remember that it makes a difference, big or small. Student activism matters. Any negative experiences or interactions you leave behind and unaddressed as you exit (or enter) your educational institution, future generations will be forced to reckon with. But, perhaps by then these negative experiences will have become normalized and codified and perpetuated for years to come. Silence is compliance. You have a voice. If you see or witness something on your campus or in your community that you disagree with, reach out to your peers. It is likely that you will find allegiance against the forces with which you intend to fight. Never forget, it only takes two people to start a revolution. Start small, work together, and never give up.