Student campus activism is one of the highlights of college living. It’s an activity that millions of students have taken up for centuries and has even played a role in shaping the course of higher education — and society.
As the world continues to fight for justice across several key societal issues, such as racial injustice, gender discrimination, politics, and more, the drive to mobilize remains an important part of our daily lives.
Student campus activism is a great first step to cultivating a sense of social responsibility, especially for causes that are close to your heart. If you’re not sure where to start just yet, here’s a quick primer on finding your cause, looking for a community, and preparing yourself for the road to student activism!
What is something that you are convinced you want to fight for? There are a lot of causes that you can choose from but it’s important to find one that resonates with you the most. Activism is not an easy feat and it will definitely take a lot out of you in terms of time, effort, and sometimes cash, which is why you should focus on causes that are close to your heart.
There are plenty of resources online to point you in the right direction. Most groups have websites so you can read up on their chosen advocacy and learn what their fight has looked like so far.
For a well-balanced education, take your research a step further and try looking for position papers from groups that oppose your fight for the cause. It can be frustrating and may go against your values, but this plays a part in helping you get a bigger picture of your advocacy. It can help you elevate the discourse on your cause and highlight important loopholes in your own beliefs.
Know Your Campus Regulations
Activism can be dangerous work, so you should know the rights and privileges that your school guarantees for you. In case you run into any trouble, you should be capable of asserting your legal rights to defend yourself.
Activism on college campuses is not banned and you have the right to speak out on important social issues. Most colleges and universities will have offices or departments dedicated to the regulation of social work where you can go and clarify any concerns that you have. The scope and limitations of student campus activism are usually found in your college or university’s student handbook.
In any case, try building rapport with your administrators. It’s easy to assume that they may not be on your side when it comes to achieving the goals of your cause — but even if this is the case, having common ground from which you can both move forward is a better strategy for your advocacy. University administrators can be a powerful ally in protecting and defending student expression on campus.
If you run into trouble, the Foundation for Individual Rights (FIRE) in Education is dedicated to helping students and faculty members defend and sustain their rights as individuals. Their website has plenty of resources to help you get started.
If you find out that you attend a school with restrictive policies, you can also use FIRE to change them. Free speech is enshrined in the First Amendment, and any policies that restrict your capacity to speak out can be evaluated by FIRE staff and compiled in their database.
Find Your Community
“Schools are a microcosm of society,” a senior lecturer at Australia’s University of Southern Queensland once said. This is a great way to encapsulate why you should learn how to navigate your college campus community. These colleges are likely to have connections to several real-world organizations or to teach you important life skills that you can apply after graduating.
If you’re still in high school, there may already be a mission-driven club for your chosen cause that you can join. If one doesn’t exist yet, you can have the honor of being your school’s founding member.
In college, it’s more likely that activist groups have already established themselves on your campus, so it’s just a matter of reaching out to them and joining them. Some clubs have branches all over the country or national associations for campus activities, while some will be unique to your school.
Got a cause that isn’t represented on your campus? Start it yourself! Try reaching out to other activist groups that support the cause in other colleges, states, or countries for ideas.
Work With Other Campus Groups
In many instances, the fight for justice in one cause can align with another. This is sometimes referred to as intersectionality. While the term is more commonly used in feminist circles, it applies to other movements as well because it is possible for injustice to happen between and on top of other systems of oppression.
Collaborating with other student campus activism groups is one way to widen your understanding of your cause and to reach out to niche communities that often go unheard in the mainstream.
Campaign on Social Media
Activism isn’t just about picketing on the streets anymore! Social media has made it possible to push your advocacy to a wide audience with just a few taps.
If you’re hesitant about dedicating yourself fully to a cause, learning how to be vocal on your personal social media can be a solid first step outside of your comfort zone.
With so many people online, you’re bound to find others who share the same ideas — and come across others yet who are still on the fence. Herein lies your opportunity to help win people over. Twitter hashtags, Facebook Live, Discord servers, and Instagram stories are all unique ways to get your narrative out there.
There’s a misconception that you need to argue with people on the opposite side of the spectrum to forward your advocacy. However, that’s not the only part of the fight; it’s also about showing your passion to the people who have yet to be swayed.
How to Deal With Conflict on Social Media
In the event that you do come across someone who contradicts your beliefs, your first port of call is to see whether this person is open to engagement. Social media is rife with trolls and dummy accounts that may only leave you frustrated instead of enlightened. If you do come across someone who only unleashes personal attacks or slurs then it is best to avoid engaging with them.
If you see that this is someone worth discussing the issue with, make sure that you avoid patronizing the person. Treat them as equals; give them their time to speak and reply respectfully in turn. This indicates that you also care about the person behind the conversation as well as the unique experiences they went through that shaped their mindset.
It can be difficult to hold a logical conversation on issues that you feel very passionately about. However, part of activism is making sure that your cause is represented as accurately as possible and it is in your best interest to help people understand where you are coming from.
Hope for the Best (but Plan for the Worst)
Activism can be incredibly fulfilling, especially when you’re advocating a cause that you are passionate about. However, it’s important to remember that you may face strong opposition throughout your work, and it’s best that you set out prepared for these possibilities.
In the event that you have an encounter with local authorities, such as campus police, you need to be capable of asserting your rights. Remain calm, collected, and respectful throughout your interaction; and, in case things start going downhill, make sure to document the entire event for your own safety.
That’s everything you need to know to get you started with student campus activism! Keep in mind that change, in any aspect, is a slow process that happens in increments. Entire movements have had to dedicate years to building up their momentum and speaking against oppression before they could enact the change that they wanted to see.
Activism isn’t about one grandiose act that can secure your cause. Rather, it’s about a series of acts carried out in your entire lifetime for an advocacy that you genuinely believe will be of benefit. Your participation as an individual will compound over time for the benefit of the movement as a whole. Good luck!