Problems and Possibilites for Student Activism
Today in my Social Movements class Kevin Simowtiz of Virginia Organizing shared his experiences as a student organizer of the Living Wage Campaign. He also facilitated a useful discussion with the class on the obstacles and resources for student led movements. Here are the highlights of their conversation:
What are the obstacles to student* involvement in social activism or service?
- Lack of an emotional connection to an issue – people may know facts but lack empathy
- Social differences between students and less privileged people makes it hard to relate social problems to students everyday lives
- Social and physical distance between students and the outside world makes it hard to escape the “bubble” and know what is happening
- Service is not always regarded by universities as central to learning or student life
- Students have increased demands on time – studying, working, commuting – service can be an added burden
- Being a student means being transient. Four years is a short time to be engaged in a community.
- In universities without service requirements or a strong center for service, it takes time and energy to find opportunities for engagement
- While students are sometimes treated like consumers, they are not like regular consumers because they are also competing for scarce resources (admission, grades, credentials)
- Competition can limit involvement in activities that are not seen to produce benefits in the job marketplace
- Uncertainty about whether actions will have any real effects or cause real change
- Fundraising can feel more tangible than direct service or protest
- Bystander effects – someone else can take care of the problem
What are the particular opportunities for students to get involved in social activism or service?
- Students have more time and flexibility than full time workers to engage and to do so in ways that are thoughtful and reflective
- Students are often held at the bottom rungs of the job market in service occupations. In these jobs, they may have opportunities for contact with struggling older adults
- Students make up a large and active constituency
- Students often still have idealism and are more passionate about change
* We implicitly defined “student” as young adults enrolled full time living on or near campus