Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Student protests here to stay (for a while)

I previously posted that the Black Lives Matter protests of summer 2020 were likely to find resonates on university campuses once the fall 2020 semester began. When I predicted that, I thought in-person instruction would have returned by then, which has not come to pass. However, student protest have been cyclical over time and the times are right for a return to more student activism. Colleges and universities, and student affairs staff in particular, will be wise to plan ahead for how they will respond.

Steven Mintz offered a number of insights well worth considering. His assessment is that, while previous generations of protestors were often unified in their efforts, current students' issues are more differentiated. However, there is a tendency for activist groups to come together to support and complement each others' efforts. Recent protests have come from inclusion commitments institutions have made, which necessarily empowers new student population groups to voice their concerns in a constructive way. Mintz says, "A college, at its best, is a place of exploration, identity formation, value clarification, aspiration and philosophical reflection, and the college years are, ideally, a time to test boundaries, question tradition, undergo fresh experiences and try out various identities - in short, to grow and mature and experiment with new ideas, values, sensibilities and aesthetics. To that end, colleges should welcome students' efforts to question university policies and practices..."

The Student Voice survey of early summer 2021 indicated that, while students believe there is an increase in campus attention to racial issues, they have generally not been satisfied by institutional responses. Perhaps it's time that we should get busy making sure that our colleagues and institutions are ready to listen to students and embrace the potential of protest in the spirit Mintz advocates.

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