Tuesday, October 17, 2017 | ePaper

Thinking of becoming a student activist?

  • Print
Joanna Hughes :
"We are living in an age of protest," UN special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association Maina Kiai recently told The Guardian. And indeed, people are taking to the streets to advocate for causes in which they believe and to express outrage over injustices. They're also taking to college campuses-a trend which prompted The Atlantic to declare the arrival of the "renaissance of student activism."
Wondering whether you should join the fight for what's right?  Read on for a guide to everything you need to know about student activism today.
The new (old) student activism
Student activism is hardly new. In fact, says Milk.xyz, "Student activism has existed almost as long as the university system itself. In the early years of higher education, way back in the 1200s, students would clash with townspeople over a multitude of things; from property damage to the treatment of servants, students at universities were always clashing over hot button issues. Despite a checkered European past, student activism really arrived in the United States around the 1600s."
But some moments in history have called for more student activism than others, and now is one of those times. As history professor and student activist specialist Angus Johnston told The Atlantic of the ripe-for-protest climate in the US, "The campus environment right now has, for the past couple of years, reminded me a lot of the early- to mid-60s moment, where there was a lot of stuff happening, a lot of energy-but also a tremendous amount of disillusionment and frustration with the way that things were going in the country as a whole and on the campuses themselves."
But this attitude is far from limited to the US. All over the world-from Chile to Paris-students are united by a common thread in stepping up for change, says Johnston: "One of the thing that ties (the campus movements) altogether is a sense that the future doesn't look as rosy as it might have a few years ago."
Furthermore, asserts, Johnston, universities are uniquely positioned to facilitate activism among students. He told The Atlantic, "A lot of the protests … embrace national issues through the lens of campus policies. 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."
A recent Higher Education Today blog takes this concept a step further by suggesting that higher education institutions have a mandate to foster campus activism in order to remain "vehicles for social change" with benefits to students and universities alike.
Jumping into student activism
If you're ready to add your voice to the collective call for justice, keep in mind that there are many different ways to do so-the majority of which, we feel compelled to add, don't necessarily involve shouting into a bullhorn, tying yourself to a tree, or even carrying around a mattress on your back the entire academic school year. (Although there's arguably a time and place for gestures of a more extreme nature.) Nor does student activism implicitly mean getting in trouble with your university, arrested, maced or something worse.
Says QS Top Universities, "Student activism and campaign work need these 'media moments', but they also need research, networking, planning, events organization, debates and discussions, fundraising, petitions, press releases - and more. So wherever your skills lie, you'll be able to put them to good use." The Anti-Defense League (ADL), meanwhile, suggests 10 different ways to engage in activism, only one of which actually involves demonstrating.
And while student activists may once have been viewed through a negative lens, the times they are a changing. According to a recent Financial Times article, even MBA programs-which "have not traditionally been regarded as hotbeds of activism" are now getting in on the activist action. Their inspiration? The examples of real-world world business leaders like Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates, who use their positioning to make change.
The best part? The leadership skills you gain from your activist exploits will distinguish your graduate school applications and/or resume in today's increasingly conscientious business landscape. Says FT, "Another reason why MBA students are willing to campaign is efforts by schools to broaden their appeal beyond people hoping to fast-track careers in investment banking and consultancy, to executives from the public sector and not-for-profits. Increasing numbers of applicants put 'social impact' goals in their business school applications, according to Paul Bodine, founder of Admitify, the MBA admissions consultancy."
That being said, making real change takes something else: real time. Adding activism to an already full student schedule can quickly become overwhelming, and may eventually lead to diminishing returns. The key to making your investment pay off? Choosing a cause you truly believe in.
 (Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family).

More News For this Category

Combine studies with internship

Combine studies with internship

Elizabeth Koprowski :If you've heard it once, you've heard it a thousand times: the job market is competitive and earning a top-notch degree is no longer enough to land

How family background influences student achievement

Anna J. Egalite :(From previous issue)However, a recent study by Gordon Dahl and Lance Lochner, exploiting quasi-experimental variation in the Earned Income Tax Credit, provides convincing evidence that increases

Top employability skills

Top employability skills

Joanna Hughes :Education and experience are only part of the "big picture" of landing a job. Also essential? Invaluable soft skills, also known as "employability skills," which convey that

Be a responsible traveller while studying abroad

Be a responsible traveller while studying abroad

Alyssa Walker :Want to study abroad?  Learn how to be a responsible traveler.In March, we reported on the benefits of sustainable tourism, as we celebrate the v.  Today, we're

Pursue a peace and conflict degree

Pursue a peace and conflict degree

Joanna Hughes :The International Day of Peace is observed all over the globe every September 21st. Indeed, no matter how different we may be, a desire for peace binds

How family background influences student achievement

How family background influences student achievement

Anna J. Egalite :On the weekend before the Fourth of July 1966, the U.S. Office of Education quietly released a 737-page report that summarized one of the most comprehensive

Do's and don'ts for students in social media

Do's and don'ts for students in social media

Joanna Hughes :From staying in touch with far-off friends and family members to keeping up on the latest news, social media has many benefits. It can even be a

Why indigenous studies are important in Canadian higher education

Why indigenous studies are important in Canadian higher education

Alyssa Walker :It's First Nations Day in Canada-and the first day of summer!  Also called National Aboriginal Day, Canada celebrates the heritage, cultures, and achievements of First Nations, Inuit,

Education will change by 2030

Education will change by 2030

Elizabeth Koprowski :Can you believe that we're more than half-way through the second decade of the new millennium?! Every day brings new developments and breakthroughs, and there are few

Languages after Brexit

Languages after Brexit

Alyssa Walker :In the aftermath of Brexit, the British Council recently warned young people that they need to learn languages other than English for the UK to compete globally.The