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.

The Mundanity of Activism: University of California Graduate Students

For the Classical Theory course that incoming graduate students in our department take, David S. Meyer includes an article by Daniel F. Chambliss called “The Mundanity of Excellence: An Ethnographic Report on Stratification and Olympic Swimmers.

Most of the folks in my cohort were perplexed when we read it.

“Maybe it’s for methodological theory, or something?”

“I don’t know, I was thinking he’s trying to appeal to the Inequality people?”

It turned out Professor Meyer was offering advice on academia, generally. Excellence is about persistence and consistent work, not natural ability. Continue reading

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Student Activism, Round 2

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:

Benjamin Giguere, McGill University; and Richard Lalonde, York University (essay)

Dannie Grufferty, National Union of Students (essay)

Lorella Praeli, Immigrant Rights Activist (essay)

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Why do students mobilize and strike?

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

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The View from a UK Student Activist

By Dannie Grufferty

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

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Undocumented Americans Confront Power

By Lorella Praeli

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. 

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May Essay Dialogue: Student Activism in Social Movements

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

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Student Protest: A Perspective from the UK

By Nick Crossley

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

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