We are pleased to bring you a second round of essays related to the role of student activism in social movements. These new essays offer a social-psychological analysis of the ongoing student protests in Quebec, as well as the perspective of two student activists. As always, we are grateful to our contributors:
Category Archives: Student Activism in Social Movements
This dialogue explores the role of student activism in social movements. Contributors were asked to draw on research experience, interests, and even personal experiences in activism to shed light on the potential that student activism holds for producing significant social change in the U.S. and throughout the world – concentrating on what it is, specifically, about student activism that distinguishes it from other bases of activism.
By Benjamin Giguère and Richard N. Lalonde*
Students are in the unique position of often being asked to reflect on the future challenges of their society. Through this process of questioning the current social structures and their functions, many students often recognize that they have shared grievances. These shared grievances can form the basis of the core ideas underlying their motivation for unity and social mobilization (see Simon and Klandermans, 2001). Some of our past and current work aims to understand how such shared grievances may motivate individuals to engage in collective action, such as participating in demonstrations. One context that has been exciting for us to examine is the student movements in the Canadian province of Québec. Our observations of some of these movements may offer insight into why students mobilize. Continue reading →
For me, the purpose of activism is to bring about social change. Here in the UK, there is an ongoing debate in the student movement about whether that should be achieved by way of a revolution, or by public policy change. As a democrat, it is important to contextualise my own views. I believe that here in the UK our activism, our pressure groups, and our social movements should be about change through shaping policy solutions. But that is not my worldview.
I have been fortunate through my involvement with the National Union of Students in the UK to meet students from around the world, including from Swaziland, Egypt, and Libya. Many of them have been and are involved in real and serious struggles to assert their rights against pressures I struggle to comprehend. Often when I meet these students I am overwhelmed by a feeling of inadequacy. The challenges that we as students face in the UK pale into insignificance when compared to the struggle for basic freedoms and the threat that these people have faced for merely standing up for what they believe in, which often is not really that radical in itself – just the chance to vote and have a say. However, this perspective also motivates me to become a better activist for local domestic issues, whilst doing all I can to provide international support and solidarity. Continue reading →
December of Dreams
Dressed in graduation caps and gowns, their faces gleamed with optimism. On December 18, 2010, undocumented immigrant youth and their allies lined up outside the nation’s Capitol to witness the U.S. Senate vote on the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. Hundreds of students from across the nation descended on Washington to watch what they hoped would be the culmination of their organizing efforts. For weeks, months, and for some, even years, these youth had organized a series of political actions to draw attention to their plight: their undocumented status. Their tactics, which ranged from acts of civil disobedience to hunger strikes and “coming out” rallies, had galvanized youth and young adults and propelled them to publicly declare their undocumented identity. On this date, they sat through public statements that criminalized their presence and rendered them “illegal.” And, together, they saw, once again, DREAM fall short by five votes of overcoming a Senate filibuster.
To vote “yes” on the DREAM Act may have cost some legislators their political careers, though probably not. For DREAMers, the failure to pass this piece of legislation translated into more years of deferred dreams, substandard wages, and a life that confines them to the shadows.
The essay dialogue this month explores the role of student activism in social movements. There are many historical examples of college students being central to social movement activism. We invited contributors to draw on their own research, interests, and even personal experiences in activism to shed light on the potential that student activism holds for producing significant social change in the U.S. and throughout the world – concentrating on what it is, specifically, about student activism that distinguishes it from other bases of activism.
As usual, we are fortunate to have a stellar group of scholars contributing to this dialogue:
Amy Binder and Kate Wood, UC San Diego (essay)
Nick Crossley, University of Manchester, (essay)
Gabriela Gonzalez-Vaillant and Michael Schwartz, Stony Brook University (essay)
Eduardo Silva, Tulane University (essay)
Nella Van Dyke, UC Merced (essay)
Check back in mid May for the second round of posts on this topic. In addition to more scholarly commentary, we will also bring an activist perspective to the conversation.
Editors in Chief,
Grace Yukich, David Ortiz, Rory McVeigh, Dan Myers
I approach student activism as an academic sociologist motivated by the question of why students, as a group, seem so often to be involved in political struggles around the world, compared with other social groups, and why, as some of my own work suggests, the process of going to university seems to have a politicising effect upon some. Students are more prone to become involved in political struggles of various kinds than many of their contemporaries.
Much of the academic research on student movements focuses either upon the supposed psychological characteristics /conflicts of young people or the supposed liberal values imparted to young people by way of higher education. Neither of these accounts will suffice, however. Continue reading →
By Amy J. Binder and Kate Wood
When talk turns to college student activism, most people will conjure up images reminiscent of the anti-war movement of the 1960s. But when it comes to campus politics, the students doing the acting are not just on the left and the style they use are not just in-your-face protest. In our soon-to-be published book (Princeton University Press, Fall 2012), we demonstrate that universities have an enormous influence on the tone and tenor of right-leaning students’ political styles—styles which, presumably, inform these students’ political activity later in life. Studying a population rarely explored by scholars of either education or social movements (but see work by Rebecca Klatch and John Andrew), we discovered that while conservative students’ ideological beliefs may be more or less shared across campuses, their political styles vary substantially from one university to the next. By shared “ideological beliefs” we mean students’ commitments to fiscal conservatism, national security, social issues, and the like; by divergent “political styles” we mean students’ expression and performance of their politics.
For those of us who were present on a college campus in the 1980s, the tents of the students participating in the Occupy movement on campus this past year provided a feeling of nostalgia, and even a sense that things are as they should be. College students should be protesting, and when a long time goes by without a visible protest on my campus, I think something is wrong. When I was an undergraduate at the University of Michigan in the mid-1980s, I was accustomed to seeing the anti-Apartheid shanties on the quad as I walked to class. As with myself, college student protest makes many people think of a specific era, most often the 1960s. However, college students have always protested. The first recorded student protest in the U.S. occurred in 1766, when students at Harvard protested the quality of the butter served in the campus cafeteria. “Behold our butter stinketh and we cannot eat thereof” was their somewhat tongue in cheek rallying cry (Lipset 1972). (I can’t help but share this quote whenever I have the opportunity). Student protest is a part of the college campus landscape and culture, even though at sometimes it is less visible than at others.
Over the past 20 years, Chile earned a reputation as a case of successful transition to democracy and market economy; the very image of a prosperous, orderly country in which institutions channel and contain conflict. Political leaders decoupled their parties from social organizations, foreswore mass mobilization as a political instrument, and, where the public is concerned, primarily used parties to get voters to the election booth. In the Chilean collective psyche, pundits assert, mass demonstrations are overwhelmingly associated with political destabilization and the breakdown of democracy – chaos. To be sure, diminished labor unions, environmental activists, indigenous peoples, and students occasionally mounted protests. But these were usually small, isolated, easily controlled, occasionally channeled back into institutionalized politics, and soon forgotten. In this context, the cycle of massive student demonstrations that gripped Chile from June to December 2011 marked a distinctive change in the characteristics and relative importance of student protests in that country.[i]
Student movements have played a crucial role in many major social and political transformations, at least partially because of their unique social status. Students are young and relatively unencumbered; students as individuals inhabit a transitory identity that they will soon leave, usually without sticky stigma; students in aggregate occupy a dynamic status infused with an energetic new generation each year. These features help to explain why student movements emerge and re-emerge, but they also point to some of the reasons why student movements have so often failed to achieve their social change goals (Taylor and Van Dyke 2007: 277) . In this essay, we seek to understand why and when social movements do succeed in extracting concessions from dominant institutions. We begin by briefly theorizing the notion of disruption as central to social movement success. We then distinguish between two types of disruption that are often practiced by student movements and viewed as similar by sociologists. We argue that the radically different dynamics of these two forms of disruption very often affect the success of student movements in leveraging social change.[i]