“There has been a real powerful sense … that the future they were promised has been taken away from them.”
2015/5/21-Maybe the campus protests seemed rather isolated at first. Dissatisfaction with the administration. Outrage over bad decisions. A student altercation gone bad.
For example: The protest at Florida State University last fall, when students didn’t like the idea of having the Republican state politician John Thrasher as their school’s president and launched a campaign—#SlashThrasher—against his candidacy. Citing the lawmaker’s corporate ties, various groups staged demonstrations, including some who organized a march to the city center.
Or the protest at the University of Michigan in September, when, amid frustrations over their football team’s losses, students rallied at the home of the school’s president to demand that he fire the athletic director. They had more on their minds than lost points: The director had neglected to remove the team’s quarterback from a football game after he suffered a serious head injury that waslater diagnosed as a concussion. (The Florida students’ protest failed to change minds at FSU, but Michigan’s athletic director was quickly sent packing.)
“I’m proud of our history. I’m not proud of Dave Brandon being a part of that history.” pic.twitter.com/JDLSWXM7YE
— Ace Anbender (@AceAnbender) September 30, 2014
Of course, there were other common themes, too. Early last fall, Emma Sulkowicz, then a student at Columbia, pledged to carry a mattress on campus daily to protest the school’s refusal to expel her alleged rapist. Soon, hundreds of her classmates joined her, as did those at 130 other college campuses nationwide, according to reports. Anti-rape demonstrations became a frequent occurrence as colleges across the country came under scrutiny for their handling of campus sexual-assault cases. There were walkouts and sit-ins, canceled speeches and banner campaigns. Last May, the U.S. Department of Education reported that it was investigating 55 colleges and universities for possible violations of Title IX. As of this January, the number had gone up to 94.
Sulkowicz even carried her mattress—with the help of two classmates—across stage to get her diploma on Tuesday:
— Teo Armus (@teoarmus) May 19, 2015
But they don’t always have to do with issues specific to students. Just take the divestment campaigns, which are becoming a popular form of political activismat college campuses across the country, including Harvard, Boston University, and Princeton. These efforts are aimed at convincing university administrations to drop their investments in controversial industries (such as guns or fossil fuels) or corporations (such as those that side with Israel) and have little to do with on-campus issues.
“A lot of the protests … embrace national issues through the lens of campus policies,” Johnston said. “The university is big enough to matter but small enough to have an influence on. It becomes a site of organizing because there are opportunities to organize on campus that a lot of times you don’t have in an off-campus community.”
— LAist (@LAist) May 16, 2015
Sometimes students demonstrate precisely because they don’t have political power. A group of Kentucky teens recently spent months campaigning for a state bill that would’ve given them the opportunity to have a say in the selection of district superintendents. The high-schoolers testified before lawmakers, wrote op-eds, consulted attorneys, and collected piles of research. The legislature didn’t pass the bill.
Indeed, despite the uptick in activism, those in power—from lawmakers to school administrators—don’t appear to be any more sympathetic student activists. Though graduate-student employees across the country have for years struggled to unionize in pursuit of tuition relief and better wages, for example, only a number of groups have succeeded in that effort.
Perhaps school officials are even less sympathetic now than in the past. According to Johnston, as Occupy spread, student activists were faced with increasingly violent punishment. One of the most egregious examples involved the University of California, Davis, in 2011, when a campus police officer, with the backing of his superiors, pepper-sprayed a group of seated students involved in an Occupy protest. Though that’s an extreme example, Johnson added, “we are seeing a less transparent, less responsive, less democratic university than we’ve seen in the past.”
Recently, a group of students at Tufts refused to eat for five days—more than 120 hours—in protest of the administration’s decision to lay off 20 janitors. For health and safety reasons, the students ended the hunger strike ended without arriving at a deal with the administration. But students have continued to rally, including at Sunday’s commencement:
— Nick Pfosi (@npfosi) May 17, 2015
And earlier this semester, the University of California, Santa Cruz—a school founded during the civil-rights movement that still markets itself as a mecca of radical politics—delivered one-and-a-half year suspensions to a group of studentswho blocked a major highway in protest of tuition hikes. (The students each face sentences of 30 days in jail and restitution, too.) Critics accused the school of capitulating to community members, who were furious over the gridlock caused by the protesters. Undergraduate tuition at UC schools has more than doubled in the last decade to its current level of $12,192—increasing at an even higher rate than has the national average.
“There has been a real powerful sense among a lot of student activists that the future they were promised has been taken away from them,” Johnston said. “One of the thing that ties (the campus movements) all together is a sense that the future doesn’t look as rosy as it might have a few years ago.”
Source: The Atlantic