In early November, students at Virginia College noticed something new on the famous campus statue of Thomas Jefferson. On the morning of the 15th, students covered the statue with post-it notes featuring statements such as “racist”, “slave owner”, and “black lives matter.” Historically, Thomas Jefferson was a notorious slave owner, and had a very controversial life due to his racist statements and sexual relations with his slaves. This act of post-it note protest came just days after students at Princeton University spoke out and held a 32-hour sit in against the namesake of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs due to his commitment to policies in favor of segregation. Student objection against the legacy of Wilson, although he was a great contributor to the university and a prominent historical figure, is an example of the new wave of values based student agitation on college campuses.
We’ve entered a new era of millennial students who have powerful voices in higher education that has not been utilized in the past to this extent. There is an opportunity today to do even more than protest statues and building names. Millennials have the opportunity to fight social isolation and racial profiling on their own campuses and beyond. Inspired by the movement to force the resignation of Tim Wolfe, former University of Missouri president, student demonstrations sparked across the nation. Over 60 student bodies have published demands, organized walkouts, and formulated rallies. Students at Occidental College staged a week long sit-in with 14 various demands to the colleges administrators to increase on-campus faculty diversity. Mary Spellman, Dean of Students at Claremont McKenna College, resigned after students were criticizing her response to a racially hateful climate at the school. In the email announcing her resignation, she stated “I believe it is the best way to gain closure of a controversy that has divided the student body and disrupted the mission of this fine institution. Most important, I hope this will help enable a truly thoughtful, civil and productive discussion about the very real issues of diversity and inclusion facing Claremont McKenna, higher education and other institutions across our society.” Rarely in America does any public statement or opinion go regarded positively by everyone, however the uniqueness of protests within a student body compared to any other national protest is strength not only in numbers, but that in such close quarters of a college campus it’s impossible for them to go unnoticed. And leaders in higher education today are more open to change and dialogue about equity and justice than ever before. Open panel discussions and support of student rallies by campus administrators are beneficial to show students they are a force that can not be ignored. Today’s opportunity for change in comparison to previous works of student activism like we saw in the civil rights era is also tainted by the power of social media. Activism groups can reach crowds exponentially larger and faster than ever before with the use of Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, and get information out to masses of people across the nation effectively.
In a society that generally lacks recognition of the historical background of figures, and often turns a blind eye to the struggles of minorities, the surge of student activism is just a sliver in the national movement on race necessary to calm hostile racial tension and climates.
Here at Wagner, SGA, The LEAD Program, and The Black Student Union hosted a rally for Solidarity with Mizzou and other schools across the nation who have been struggling with racial problems on their campus in addition to a declaration for our own campus.