*Originally published by Turning Dreams Into Goals on TurningDreamsIntoGoals.com*
In recent years, the news surrounding college activism seem to be endless. From campaigns on social media to demonstrations and protests on campus streets, colleges throughout the nation are buzzing with political activity. Most of these social protests continue to garner the attention of those both within and beyond the academic world. As students begin college life and as their families and friends send them off to live and work in these new spaces, it is worthwhile to understand the history of student activism, why it has re-surged so strongly in recent years and perhaps most importantly, how to decide whether or not to become involved in activist efforts on your own college campus.
Campus activism is certainly not new and much of its history actually began in tandem with the civil rights movements and the freedom struggles of the late 1960s and early 1970s. For example, some of the most famous and well-documented protests of this time were led by students of color who desired a more racially inclusive curriculum. In fact, many of the Black studies, multicultural studies and ethnic studies departments that currently exist on campuses nationwide were established as a result of these protests. California colleges in particular were at the frontline of these movements as students at UC Berkeley and San Francisco State University were some of the first to advocate for more diversity and inclusion.
It is extremely important to know the background and history of collegiate social activism in order to fully understand why these types of movements continue to take place. The achievements of these movements throughout the 1960s and 1970s prove that students have the power to enact real change and profoundly transform aspects of their college experience that they feel are at odds with their own core values and ideals. While during the admissions process, it may feel as if college administration possess all of the power, student activism of the past reminds us that students have the ability to speak their minds and force those in positions of authority to address their concerns, as long as this activism is executed in ways that are well planned out and well intentioned.
Here are three things to consider when deciding whether or not becoming a collegiate social activist is right for you:
1. What is Your Passion?
Much of today’s activism deals with a wide variety of issues, that impact different groups and communities so it is important to think about what types of activism are currently out there and which are most attractive to you.
Some student activism aims to address problems that are going on directly on the college campus itself such as fighting to make the faculty more racially diverse, or working to make the campus safer for female and transgender students who are more vulnerable to sexual assault. Other student movements however deal more with raising awareness about issues that extend beyond the campus such as mass incarceration or police brutality. Thus, an extremely important question to consider is what issues are important to you? Try attending a lecture or demonstration hosted by a student activist group or studying the history of the cause and movement, before assessing if you feel compelled to get behind their mission.
2. What is Your Schedule?
While every student activist should feel that their work is worthwhile, it is important to remember that it is a time consuming investment. Many onlookers often only see the final product of student activism without realizing the effort and commitment required in order to plan out their various programs and events. Before becoming a student activist leader, think about what other extracurricular activities you may be interested in and how you plan on juggling it all in addition to your academic schedule and responsibilities. Any and every social justice movement has come with sacrifice in order to achieve victory.
3. What Are Your Intentions?
With the rise of social media we have been able to see different student activist movements develop all throughout the nation that has made it a current hot topic of conversation. While this exposure is excellent in terms of raising awareness for a variety of issues, it can also easily create a bandwagon mentality amongst online users. Make sure that you thoroughly research and understand any social justice cause that you plan on taking up before you jump into it. Additionally, be sure to evaluate your own goals and intentions: are you doing this because you truly feel committed to the cause, or simply because you want your friends and followers to see you in a positive light?
Student activism is extremely important and it will always be necessary. Movements of the past have helped make our campuses more diverse and inclusive and contemporary movements have been a huge part in raising people’s social awareness throughout history. However, just because it is important does not mean that everyone needs to be on the frontlines of each and every movement that pops up.
There are different ways to be a leader in your community, and sometimes leadership is most influential not center stage.
Finally, if you are interested in spearheading a campaign or getting involved in a cause, make sure you first think about your passions, availability and intentions and then decide whether or not to have an active role in the movement. If after your evaluation however, you feel that activism just isn’t right for you please remember that you can still support a cause you´re interested through other ways, such as attending meetings and demonstrations or liking and sharing their content on social media. Choose what works best for you! As long as you stay positive, focused and honest about what causes you care about and why, there is no role too big or too small that you can play!
Pieces written for online & print publications and non-profit organizations.