3 reasons why you need to talk about student activism now

This summer, our Student Affairs Forum research team spoke with administrators and experts across the United States and Canada about the changing landscape of student activism in higher education. Over the last few months, we’ve seen numerous headline news stories about protests, sit-ins, and demands on college and university campuses. From member feedback, we’ve gathered three compelling reasons why you should be talking about student activism now.

1. Nearly 10% of students expect to protest while in college

Earlier this year, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles shared results from the American Freshman Survey, which found that nearly 1 in 10 incoming students said they have a “very good chance” of participating in student protests while in college. Furthermore, activity around controversial topics like race relations, fair wages, sexual violence, and tuition is expected to continue.

Related: Read our study Creating the Agile Student Affairs Organization

2. Today’s student activists are social media-savvy, connected, and well organized

Activists use social media to bring greater attention to previously isolated incidents. Small, localized incidents now spark community interest, draw national media attention, and even inspire students at other institutions to speak out in solidarity about similar issues. On campus, activists have support from external groups and they are well-organized and persistent. Activists increasingly demand an immediate institutional response on campus, local, national, and international matters.

3. Institutions are generally underprepared for today’s activism

From our research conversations, we’ve learned that institutions lack the infrastructure and strategy needed to effectively respond to today’s student activists. Institutions are frequently caught off-guard by an outburst of activism, and there is immediate confusion about who should respond and how to best communicate with activists. Institutions should develop the infrastructure and strategy to proactively engage activists, respond to outbursts of activism, and systematically address students' concerns.

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