Three ways that third-party actors influence campus activism

The latest wave of student activism on campuses caught many institutions by surprise. One of the distinguishing factors about recent activism is the widespread presence of external influences, or third-party actors.

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Today many campuses are grappling with third-party actors and organizations that shape campus activism. Third-party actors can be found throughout many aspects of campus activism. For example, they often collaborate with students and faculty to sponsor events, pop up on campus to distribute literature or speak with students, or pressure institutions to re-evaluate their actions related to promoting free speech on campus.

These types of interactions raise specific challenges about creating and enforcing policies to regulate the actions of third-party actors on campus. Affected policies might include literature distribution, pop-up events on campus grounds, or invited speaker protocols. It is important to consider how your institution’s related policies and response protocols will be applied to third-party actors. Such policies are often dependent on factors like state regulations and campus characteristics.

However, the challenge of managing third-party actors cannot be completely anticipated. Use this quick guide with campus leaders and response teams to identify, discuss, and calibrate your institution’s response strategy for working with and managing third-party actors and other external influences.

How do third-party actors influence campus activism?

1. Monitor institutional actions
Advocacy groups assess institutional policies for violations of free speech principles or protections. Third-party actors might also review the university’s external communications for missteps, inconsistencies, and signals of future action that can be exposed to a wider following of supporters.

Key questions for your campus

  • What major groups currently monitor your institution’s activities?
  • Who on campus is responsible for responding to and coordinating with these groups? What are our general response parameters?
  • What is our institutional policy to draft, issue, and respond to official college communications?

2. Outfit students with resources
Third-party organizations and donors provide resources, training, and support to students’ movements on campus. They also help students connect with a national network of like-minded supporters in other communities.

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Key questions for your campus

  • What third-party organizations or actors are providing resources and support to students?
  • How do students engage with off-campus peers? How can this change their activity on campus?
  • How can we help students critically assess the motivations and resources available through third-party actors?

3. Speak out on campus
Third-party actors pop up on campus to speak or show exhibits that might conflict with the stated policies or values of the campus community. Formally invited speakers may cause an uproar on campus, in the local community, or beyond due to controversial content or media coverage.

Key questions for your campus

  • Who is allowed to use space on campus to freely set-up a space for an exhibit or speech?
  • How do we handle formal requests from third-party actors to host events or forums on campus?
  • Who can invite speakers to the institution? Are there any requirements?
  • Under what conditions can an invitation be rescinded?

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