Posted on February 12, 2016

Why College Activism Is Soaring

Stacy Teicher Khadaroo, Christian Science Monitor, February 11, 2016

The recent success of protesters addressing issues of race on campus–from the University of Missouri to Ithaca College–may be the leading edge of a historic level of student activism.

Incoming college freshmen are more likely than ever before to say they are very likely to participate in protests while in college, an annual survey released Thursday shows.

There’s also been an uptick in other indicators of students’ civic engagement and their desire to improve racial understanding, according to “The American Freshman,” a nationally representative survey of new full-time students published by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles.


The number of incoming freshmen in 2015 who said they are very likely to take part in protests was 8.5 percent, up from 5.6 percent in 2014. That’s the highest percentage since the survey started in 1967, though the previous peak in 1992 was close, at 8.4 percent. The low point was 3.6 percent in 1978.


Black students were the most likely to say there’s a good chance they will protest, at 16 percent, up 5.5 percentage points from the year before. Latino students also saw a significant rise, with 1 in 10 now expecting to protest.


While today’s students may borrow tactics from protest movements of the past, they are also innovating. The various distractions of modern society, coupled with the evolution of civil rights issues, has forced them to go about things in new ways, says Walter Earl Fluker, a professor of ethical leadership at Boston University.

“Black Lives Matter in some ways is in the vanguard of a new generation of student activists who have arrived on the stage of history without a fixed script,” says Professor Fluker. “They’ve had to rewrite . . . fragments of scripts from the past . . . [based on] their own challenges of police brutality, incarceration of black and brown people . . . and the disrespect that many experience on major university campuses.”

The freshman survey was conducted between March and October of 2015, before the victory of student activists at Missouri, who–with the help football players promising to boycott profitable games–toppled the president this fall.

In the following months, activists at several other campuses succeeded in bringing down leaders or getting administrators to agree to demands such as working to increase the diversity of their faculties.