Today students are typecast as self-absorbed, apathetic and out of touch with problems plaguing society. Pundits and parents say we spend too much time on Snapchat and Twitter and not enough time studying or getting involved in our communities. Contrary to popular belief, history shows us students have come together to stand up and speak out against the inequalities they see surrounding them. There are many successful student movements that have shaped national discourse and created tangible change in their communities. Those ready and willing to embark on the journey stand on the shoulders of greatness that came before and will continue to build on the work of others.
In 1964, activism crescendoed in the Freedom Summer campaign in Mississippi, which aimed to register as many African-Americans to vote as possible. Thousands of out-of-state volunteers went to Mississippi, many of them students. During this campaign, three students were shot and killed by the Ku Klux Klan, but the effects of their efforts were felt with the historic signing of civil rights legislation.
In the 1970s and 1980s, significant student movements across the country pushed the United States to divest from South Africa in response to the Apartheid Movement. Student campaigns beginning at Stanford, Michigan State and the University of Michigan sought to dismantle the apartheid state using the only lever they had: economic pressure. By 1988, 155 total institutions divested from South Africa, putting pressure on state governments to take concrete action. This eventually set the stage for federal action. In 2010, 19 years after the fall of the apartheid state, Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote, “In South Africa, we could not have achieved our freedom and just peace without the help of people around the world, who through the use of non-violent means, such as boycotts and divestment, encouraged their governments and other corporate actors to reverse decades-long support for the Apartheid regime.” While the South Africa divestment campaign grew to make lasting national and international change, it started from where we sit today – in dorm rooms on college campuses.
Last week, we saw students of color at the University of Missouri come together and call for the resignation of their president for ignoring the struggles they face on campus. Enacting change requires challenging existing bodies of power. On Monday, Tim Wolfe stepped down as president of the Mizzou system because of the pressure the students put on the administration and board of trustees. This momentum picked up and we saw sit-ins and rallies on college campuses across the country to show solidarity with the students at Mizzou and voice the concerns they face at their own institutions. We have seen the power students hold when we come together around one issue and push for change we want to see.
Madelyn Schorr is a senior major in art and anthropology. Her column runs biweekly.