In 1960, four African-American college students remained seated at a counter in a segregated restaurant in Greensboro amongst police presence, inspiring hundreds of students to do the same across the nation.
In 1989, amid tanks and gunfires, a gathering of nearly 15,000 college students stood unyielding against a military advance and a corrupt government in Tianmen Square.
In 2018, students across the nation walked out during the school day and called for better gun control and their right to feel safe in their classrooms.
College students have been at the forefront of nearly every political movement–sitting, marching, and yelling for the change they want to see in the world.
Just as college students are an intrinsic part of politics, politics remain an integral part of the college experience.
As college students, we’re at a uniquely volatile time in our lives. In that transitory period between youth and adulthood, we are stuck in an odd liminal space where we are able to see all the problems in the world, and we are also sure that we can fix them.
Even though the surety we have in our ability to change the world is often discounted by adults who think we’re nothing more than disillusioned youth, they could not be more wrong.
Across centuries and nations, student protests have remained catalysts for explosions of change. In South Africa, student protests in Soweto inspired students in the United States to enact their own demonstrations, leading to the withdrawal of billions of dollars from investments in South Africa by administrators.
The ensuing economic pressure has been cited as one of the key factors to the dissolution of apartheid. In Czechoslovakia, five hundred thousand students remained resolutely nonviolent in the face of tear gas and water cannons. Ten days after the protest, the Communist Party relinquished its power.
Higher education serves as a gateway to the understanding of the society we participate in and with that understanding comes an ability to enact change. By studying the revolutions of generations past, we are able to demand more and better than our predecessors. Even in recent years, the goals of movements have continued to evolve.
In 2017, millions of protestors filled the streets of Washington D.C to participate in the Women’s March, the largest single-day protest in US history, to protest Trump’s anti-woman behavior. In 2018, they rallied to encourage a more diverse involvement of women in politics.
In 2019, for the first time, the movement created a federal policy platform and marched to call for change in legislation that would end violence against women, protect LGBTQ+ rights, and enact climate change reform.
In 2020, in light of the election, the march partnered with a voter registration organization to ensure that women would be able to vote.
In 2021, they marched to dismantle systems of oppression and build inclusive structures. They haven’t yet announced their plans for the 2022 march, but it can be assumed that it will be focused on the battle for reproductive rights currently raging in our courts.
As new leaders come into power and the uphill fight for universal human rights continues, the legacy of student protests remains one of the few constants of change. Every right we have today is one that was fought for by those that came before us, so isn’t it our responsibility to continue the fight?
Our willingness to stand up against injustice and demand a better life for our generation and every generation after us is what guarantees our growing freedoms.
You don’t have to take to the streets in protest. You don’t have to make a grand proclamation. You don’t even have to vocally advocate for anything.
Fighting oppression can be something as small as signing a petition or voting in local elections.
As long as you are using your voice, your privilege as a student of higher education, to make a change in something you’re passionate about, you’ve made a difference in our world, and, at the end of the day, that’s what matters.