Today, the voices of student activists are ringing louder than ever before, challenging the status quo and demanding a brighter future for all. Some think it’s a new trend, but this is not true. Student activism has been a mainstay of college life ever since the emergence of the first universities and has contributed to many significant causes.
Students today have discovered new ways to draw attention to burning issues. Technology and social media have become powerful tools for young activists to amplify their voices and inspire change on a global scale.
So, do you want to protest against injustice?
Or maybe you want to help in the battle against global warming?
If so, then activism is an excellent option for you!
In this article, our custom-writing experts will tell you about the main types of activism, how to choose one that suits you, and how to start being an activist in college. Plus, there will be an awesome infographic and a bonus at the end!
📜 The History of Student Activism
So, what is student activism? It’s the collective action taken by students to bring about change, whether political or social. It involves advocating for a cause, raising awareness, and campaigning for specific issues. Students have been engaged in activism for centuries, participating in everything from anti-war protests to demonstrations against tuition increases.
Since its inception, campus activism has significantly impacted the evolution of higher education and society as a whole. Students have pushed colleges to eliminate discriminatory rules, boost campus security, and enhance the student experience for generations to come.
There have been many inspiring examples of student campaigns throughout history. Below, we’ll discuss some of them in more detail.
The Harvard Butter Rebellion
In 1766, Harvard University’s students became fed up with having to eat rancid butter in their cafeteria. When their patience ran out, they staged a massive protest. The issue was settled when the headmaster stepped in, substituting rancid butter with good-quality butter.
Take Back the Night
In 1972, students from the University of South Florida marched, demanding a safer campus for women. This demonstration inspired Take Back the Night—an international movement seeking to end all types of domestic and sexual abuse. Hundreds of events related to this movement occur annually in more than 30 nations worldwide.
The Greensboro Sit-Ins
The Greensboro sit-ins are among the first peaceful protests of civil rights activists. In 1960, a group of Black students from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College sat at the lunch counter for White students only and refused to leave despite threats from authorities. This way, they wanted to attract people’s attention to the problem of segregation. They are credited with sparking a much larger sit-in movement with more than 70 000 participants.
The Velvet Revolution
It’s hard to believe, but the famous 1989 Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia was possible thanks to proactive students that participated in rallies against the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. As a result, the country’s 41-year one-party dictatorship came to an end, and a parliamentary republic was established.
🎓 Student Activism Today
There has never been a better time to become an activist than today. Students, teachers, politicians, and celebrities across the world actively participate in important political and cultural movements.
In addition to rallying in the streets and working behind the scenes in activist organizations, they influence politicians and assist in crucial events such as elections, suppression of police brutality in the United States, and many more. Activists are now as powerful and free as ever.
Some of the leading contemporary activist movements are:
|🌎 Fridays for Future||This is an international movement of students who take part in protests to call on political figures to stop global warming. They also want to pressure the fossil fuel sector to switch to renewable energy sources.|
|🙅 March for Our Lives||This movement started with a protest march organized by students in favor of gun control laws. On March 24, 2018, the protest took place in Washington, DC, becoming one of the largest protests in the US history. In addition, over 880 related events took place in other countries.|
|✊🏿 Black Lives Matter||BLM is a social movement that’s been very successful in drawing attention to racism and racial inequity. It’s mainly concerned with radicalized violence and police brutality.|
👍 How Student Activism Helps Make a Change
Student activism has always had a substantial impact on our society. With the advent of social media, this influence has grown exponentially. Here are some recent examples of how student activism has improved our lives.
Student protesters today emphasize supporting gun laws, and they have inspired many young people to participate in the 2018 elections. A survey conducted by CIRCLE at Tufts University found that youths involved in the gun violence prevention movement were likelier to vote in the 2018 midterms. Increased media coverage of young activists has also contributed to the growth in youth voter registration and turnout in 2020.
In 2018, European mass media was shaken by a 16-year-old Swedish girl, Greta Thunberg. At 15, she began spending her Fridays outside the Swedish Parliament to advocate for more aggressive climate change action. Thunberg first came to public attention due to her young age and direct speaking style.
In her speeches, she criticizes political leaders for not doing enough to address the global warming. Now, thousands of students around the world leave their classrooms on Fridays as part of a global international climate strike led by Thunberg.
Activism can also be used to demand changes on a smaller scale—for instance, in your local community or college. In 2015, Virginia Commonwealth University students insisted on hiring more professors of color, and their demands were met.
Aside from being inspiring, all these protests are peaceful and comply with the principles of democracy.
The Perks of Being an Activist
As you can see, activism indeed benefits our society as a whole. But it also teaches many new skills and valuable lessons to anyone willing to become an activist. Its personal benefits include:
|💬||Improving your critical thinking and communication skills||Activists must communicate their message in a way that captures the attention of the public. Thus, they develop excellent communication skills and find the confidence to stand up for their beliefs.|
|🎯||Giving you a personal sense of purpose||If you’re unsure about your purpose in life, then becoming an activist might be a thing for you. Feeling that you’re a part of something bigger than yourself is truly an inspiring experience.|
|🤝||Helping you find a community of like-minded people||It’s always nice to find someone with the same interests and values as you. New relationships also mean new connections and new opportunities.|
|🐢||Moving you out of your comfort zone||Student activism encourages you to try new, unfamiliar things. By embracing new challenges and pushing your boundaries, you’ll be amazed at how much more self-assured you become.|
|🌟||Allowing you to discover who you are||Student activism is a great way to learn more about yourself and your potential. You might be surprised by what you are capable of when you collaborate with a proactive collective.|
|🎤||Letting your voice be heard||Activism is a perfect forum for expressing your thoughts and ideas. Additionally, it gives you the joy of learning about the views and opinions of your fellow activists.|
|🌐||Helping make the world a better place||This point may be obvious, but it’s the most important one of them all. When like-minded people come together, big things happen. Don’t be afraid to make a difference—your efforts will be appreciated more than you know.|
🙋 The Public Perception of Activism
It’s hard to believe it, but there were times when social justice activists were mostly seen as hooligans, puppets of the authorities, or just incompetent people who didn’t understand what they were talking about. Today, there still are people who share this opinion, but there are much fewer of them.
You may be wondering, what makes people be suspicious of activists? Well, there are several answers to this question:
|🔴||Some individuals may feel threatened by the ideas and demands of student activists, particularly if they challenge the status quo or their personal beliefs.|
|🔴||Additionally, cultural or generational differences may create a disconnect between student activists and those who do not share their values or experiences.|
|🔴||Specific methods used by activists can be shocking (for example, the recent case of pouring soup on Van Gogh’s painting) and may repel people. Still, shock is an effective way to draw attention to important and uncomfortable problems.|
Examining surveys from several student protests throughout history, we can see that, compared to 50 years ago, society now views student activism very differently. A 1969 poll reveals that only 34% of Americans interviewed thought that student protesters could be trusted, while 54% said it was best to be cautious around them.
But what about now? According to a recent poll from March 2018, the majority of the American public (64% of interviewees!) supports students speaking up for themselves on television and in other media.
We can see that nowadays, authorities understand more than ever that they need to listen to young people’s voices. The public perception of activism is becoming more and more positive, and activists are gaining more strength and influence in the media.
📣 The Main Types of Student Activism
So, you’ve decided to become an activist. That’s great news! But first, you need to learn about the details. Let’s start with analyzing the main types of activism that are relevant today. We will consider different methods and causes.
The main methods by which students can practice activism are the following:
|🪧 Demonstrations and Marches||In a protest demonstration, people who share a common belief come together. To raise awareness for their cause, they may march in a specific route, stage a sit-in at a particular location, or hold a vigil in remembrance of a person’s life.|
|🖋️ Petitions||Petitions are written calls to action, most often addressed to the authorities. Their primary purpose is to pressure businesses, governments, and other influential parties. People who agree with the petition sign it. The more signatures a petition has, the more attention it receives.|
|🎨 Media Campaigns||This type of activism is practiced through various media: TV, radio, or even newspapers. Images, videos, and other means help students spread awareness of multiple problems.|
|🖥️ Internet Activism||Today’s activists often draw attention to their message by being active on social media. This includes writing posts on Facebook and Twitter, creating content, retweeting, or reposting Instagram stories.|
|🗣️ Speak-outs||People who have experienced a certain kind of injustice can give a public speech about their experiences and describe how it has affected their lives.|
|📊 Data Activism||Statistics power the form of protesting known as data activism. Data activism can employ creating and gathering open digital data to reflect current problems.|
|☮️ Civil Disobedience||This act of protest entails a deliberate refusal to obey specific laws. Nonviolent civil disobedience has a long history and has been particularly successful in bringing about social change.|
|🙏 Volunteering||Volunteering is all about selflessly helping others with your actions. It empowers individuals by giving them the self-assurance, know-how, and tools they need to make a difference in the world. This is also a great way of showing society how actions can make our world better.|
Now let’s talk about the problems that we, as a society, must deal with, and you, as an activist, can help to solve. We’ve also included some resources related to each cause that you may check out.
Diversity & Racism
Although the Civil Rights Movement began more than 50 years ago, racism and a lack of diversity still exist on college campuses and in the rest of the nation. Racial tensions can linger and eventually threaten people’s safety. That’s why activism in racial justice causes is as important as ever.
|🌐 Racial Justice Resources: Justice for Black Lives||This page at National Education Association contains plenty of great multimedia resources and texts related to racial issues and ways to combat them.|
|🌐 Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion||This is a comprehensive list of resources on DEI curated by American Nuclear Society. Check it out to learn about various facets of diversity and inclusion.|
The most dangerous consequences of climate change now include intense droughts, water scarcity, destructive fires, rising sea levels, flooding, and melting polar ice. Human influence on nature is also a big topic to discuss.
|🌐 350.org||350.org is a global grassroots organization focused on solving the climate crisis through online campaigns and public actions. Their efforts are driven by thousands of volunteers in more than 188 countries, who lead the charge from the ground up.|
|🌐 EcoLeader||The NWF Campus Ecology team has been working with colleges and universities for over three decades to protect wildlife and habitats through campus sustainability efforts.|
Gender discrimination still exists in political and economic spheres. Despite considerable advances over the years, women still earn on average 20% less than men in the worldwide labor market. But that’s just a part of it—the issue of inequality also includes gender-based violence, harassment, and workplace discrimination.
|🌐 Amnesty International||This global movement is concerned with injustice in all its forms, including gender discrimination. Check out their website to learn about the history and definition of women’s rights.|
|🌐 Equality Now||This organization, founded in 1992, aims to create a just world for women and girls. In particular, they study worldwide laws and legal practices in relation to women’s rights.|
LGBTQ persons have long faced discrimination in the workplace, housing, military, and other spheres. Student activism is especially progressive in this area. Numerous college groups unite LGBTQ students and allies, creating an inclusive environment and finding new ways to make the world more just.
|🌐 LGBTQ Student Groups at U-M||SpectrUM is the University of Michigan’s undergraduate organization. Its purpose is to foster pride through education, awareness, advocacy, and social events and to support all members of the LGBTQ community and their allies.|
|🌐 LGBTQ Health and Rights: Advocates for Youth||Advocates for Youth has worked with LGBTQ young people for over three decades, including founding the first online space for LGBTQ youth to help and support one another.|
Students champion many political issues on college campuses, be it anti-war demonstrations or dissatisfaction with the country’s foreign and domestic policy.
|🌐 Peace Direct||Peace Direct is a nonprofit organization with a mission to prevent and end wars. Its website contains plenty of information about peacebuilding as well as personal accounts.|
|🌐 Stop the War||Stop the War Coalition was established soon after George W. Bush announced the infamous “war on terror” in September 2001. It has remained committed to stopping and terminating the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and other regions.|
Social justice is a guiding principle that unites activists in achieving their shared objectives. These objectives include racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic equality, freedom from discrimination, and equal rights.
|🌐 The Fight for Labor Rights: PBS Learning Media||In this collection at PBS Learning Media, you can explore the ongoing fight for workers’ rights in the United States with the help of videos and texts. Learn about the rise and fall of labor unions, the origin of the 40-hour workweek, and more.|
|🌐 Progressive Social Justice on Feedspot||The Progressive magazine aims to amplify voices of dissent and under-represented groups in the mainstream media, intending to champion grassroots progressive politics.|
Cost of Education
40% of students who start college don’t finish it due to high costs. Many graduates are ill-equipped to support themselves and pay off the debt they accrued while earning their degrees. All this makes the cost of education a topical issue among students.
|🌐 National Education Association||The NEA is a group of over 3 million individuals who share a common belief in providing equal opportunities for all students through the transformative power of public education to create a fair and inclusive society.|
|🌐 Access to Quality Education – Public Advocates||This project is led by Public Advocates Inc., a nonprofit law firm and advocacy organization. They address the root causes of poverty and racial discrimination by empowering community voices in public policy and promoting equity in education, housing, transportation, and climate issues.|
🤔 How to Choose a Suitable Type of Activism
Now you know about the many types of activism. But how do you choose one for yourself?
To do that, it’s essential to consider how you can use your unique talents to contribute to a cause. Find your strength or something you’re good at, and integrate it into your campaigning.
To make it easier for you, we’ve combined the types of activism with the necessary traits or skills. Check them out below, and you’ll surely find one that suits you!
|Petitions||This way of protesting is for those who enjoy writing and have a way with words. An effective petition must be short, clear, and stirring for those who will read it. If you have ever practiced creative writing or contributed articles to your college newspaper, this type of protest will suit you well.|
|Media campaigns||Here, it is essential to be creative. If you enjoy painting or working with graphic design, then you can use visual symbols to convey the point of your protest. If you’re interested in recording audio, try making a podcast or writing a song that will inspire others to help your cause.|
|Volunteering and community service||Being an activist isn’t all about protesting; it’s also about helping others. Is it something you enjoy? Then, volunteering is worth trying for you. Show others how social solidarity works, and they will surely join you in your activism.|
|Internet activism||Perhaps you’re a blogger or active on your social media. Why not make it about activism? Try writing eye-catching posts about our world’s problems and draw attention to your blog and the cause.|
|Demonstrations||If you’re good at communicating with others and giving public speeches, this traditional way of protesting will suit you and can even lead you to a political career! Just remember that during demonstrations, you should not disobey any laws or regulations.|
|Speak-outs||Do you enjoy educating people? Maybe you have a story to share? Then we recommend you participate in a speak-out. Remember that the story you consider telling the public must contain a call to action and interest your audience.|
|Civil disobedience||If you’re not afraid of the authorities, then you may consider this way of protesting to achieve your goals. Civil disobedience will draw a lot of attention to your protest, but it can also lead to you receiving sanctions and social disapproval, so be careful!|
|Data activism||This type of protest is great for people who enjoy collecting various statistics and analyzing data. For a successful protest as a data analyst, you must be able to find relevant information in open sources and scientific articles or surveys.|
Check out the infographic below to learn more about the various options you can choose from depending on your strengths and talents:
🏁 Getting Started: The First Steps to Student Activism
Now that you’ve chosen a direction for yourself and are ready to start becoming an activist, you need to know what your first steps should be. Don’t worry—we’ve got the answer. Read on to learn all about how to start on your path.
Here’s what you should do:
📌 Step #1. Discover your passion and find people who share it.
Finding people who share your interests is a great starting point for activism. Use activity fairs, notice boards, websites, and social media to find fellow activists.
📌 Step #2. Do your research.
Effective activism requires a thorough understanding of the problem at hand. Read reliable news sources, follow well-known campaigners on social media, and join clubs that focus on the issues you care about.
📌 Step #3. Determine your goal.
Make a list of your immediate, mid-term, and long-term objectives. This will help you stay organized and prepared for action.
📌 Step #4. Create an action plan.
Consider everything that must be done to accomplish your goal. Arrange the actions chronologically, starting with solutions to your immediate objective.
📌 Step #5. Use resources and collaborate.
To have strength in numbers, activists should get in touch with faculty or staff who can offer guidance. Don’t be afraid to reach out to national organizations and higher authorities.
📌 Step #6. Spread the word.
Always look for chances to tell people about the cause you’re campaigning for. You can hold informational meetings or make special announcements before major events.
📌 Step #7. Take action.
Once you’ve got a plan and a group of people to support you, you can begin organizing events, workshops, social media postings, and other activities to achieve your goals.
🌱 What If Being an Activist Is Not for You?
For various reasons, a person may not have the desire or opportunity to be an activist, even if they still want to help society. For example, someone may be afraid of being punished by authorities. They may also fear for their mental health, which is no joke, either—research shows that, despite all the benefits, 60% of activists experience adverse consequences of campaigning to their psychological well-being. These concerns are all valid, and there’s no need to be ashamed of them.
It’s important to remember that you don’t have to be an activist if it’s not something that interests you or aligns with your values. Everyone has the right to choose their path and make a difference in their own unique way.
In case you still want to make a contribution, there is no need to despair. We’ll tell you about alternatives to traditional types of activism. Sounds interesting? Keep reading!
Everyday Activism: How Small Actions Can Help a Cause
Instead of being a full-fledged activist, you can make a contribution through changes in your lifestyle through everyday activism.
Everyday activism is a set of small yet meaningful actions that you take on a daily basis to make a positive impact on the world around you. By engaging in them, you develop a mindset of intentional living and social justice that will serve you well during and after college. These actions can become lasting habits and help you make a difference in the world around you.
Everyday activism may include:
|🍅||Buying organic products from local farms. Your local farmers produce organic food without harmful chemicals, preventing the pollution of communities with pesticides. Switching to organic food is a vital step in the fight to protect the environment.|
|🚴||Riding a bike or walking instead of driving. By refusing to drive a car, you help preserve Earth’s ozone layer. Also, consider that people who walk instead of driving have an 11% lower risk of having a stroke or heart attack!|
|🚿||Taking shorter showers. By saving water, you maintain the balance of our planet’s reserves and help provide water to people in dire need of it.|
|🐶||Adopting a pet. By getting a pet from a shelter, you’ll support local animal rescuers instead of breeding facilities and puppy mills, which are notorious for their cruelty. The more animals get adopted, the more space in a shelter is freed to rescue new ones.|
|🗳️||Participating in political voting. You cast your vote in every election, not merely for the most prominent candidates. You also support representatives and initiatives that facilitate your efforts to bring about social change.|
|💸||Spending your money wisely. By analyzing your expenses and learning to spend money only on things you truly need, you help your country’s economy grow. And when a country has a strong economy, it can allocate more funds for environmental projects or other issues that activists fight for.|
|🛍️||Supporting ethical brands. These are brands that use ethical policies and are eco-friendly. Choosing them over fast fashion will make it possible for them to make beneficial contributions to society. To find ethical brands, you may use Fashion Transparency Index.|
🎁 Bonus: Dos & Don’ts of Student Activists
So, here’s the promised bonus! Check out the following useful tips on what college activists should and shouldn’t do during demonstrations and other events.
- Find free outlets. Having a way to spread awareness without spending money is essential because college itself is a costly place. Ask supporters at a meeting if they have any links to the local newspaper or radio station (using college outlets is fine, too.)
- Challenge the speech code at your school. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has a manual on how to challenge university policies that restrict forms of speech that are normally allowed in society. We recommend you check it out.
- Know your rights. When starting a protest, you may encounter negative pressure from the police. Always remember that if you don’t disobey any laws or regulations, you have a right to protest.
- Prepare well. Activism frequently entails long days without access to many conveniences or essentials, so ensure you’re well-prepared. Bring plenty of shelf-stable snacks, a water bottle you can refill, necessary medication, sunglasses, comfortable clothes, and some money.
- Collaborate with others. Avoid going alone to demonstrations and rallies. Align with people who share your viewpoint so that you can benefit from the power of unity in terms of representation and protection.
- Ask for help when necessary. Remember that you’re not alone. Always count on your allies, and don’t cross off municipal forces because they’re also here to help you as an activist.
- Don’t fall prey to discriminatory activism. Nobody should experience prejudice. However, it’s equally crucial to avoid bias while opposing intolerance.
- Don’t forget your goals. As your movement expands, it’s easy to get your head stuck in the clouds. Keeping your message consistent and remembering what you want to achieve in the first place will help you not to lose track of your goals.
- Don’t be caught off-guard. When you’re protesting, you should always watch for provocation. Be vigilant and keep your thoughts and attention on the subject.
- Don’t silence others. Every protest is based on the pillars of democracy. If you can voice your opinion, you must also let others voice theirs. That includes your opponents, even if you disagree with them.
- Don’t be afraid. Being an activist is a challenging task. If you’re scared, remember that there are always people who support your point of view. These people are ready to help, and even if your protest doesn’t reach its goal, there will be no adverse consequences for you and your fellow campaigners.
Activism is always a choice. No one forces you to become an activist, but if you choose to become one, then go for it! It doesn’t matter what you’re going to campaign for. Everything you do will count.
We sincerely wish you luck on your path to making our world a better place! Feel free to tell us your ideas in the comments and share this article with other aspiring activists.