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Student Activism in the United States


Student activism is not a new concept. It has a rather long history, and its contribution to the political and social changes in society is difficult to over evaluate. The past of student activism is full of significant moments. The present is not clear due to the fact that student activism has changed its form and manifestations. The future is bright because young generations will always find a way to state their position regarding the issues of their concern. Student activism has changed its form but not the essence. The paper is aimed at exploring the concept of student activism, the arguments regarding the issues it currently has according to the particular source, and the objective analysis of the situation with student activism as of present days.

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Where Is Student Activism?

Students are considered to be the most politically and socially active part of any civilized society (Garret & Li, 2016). They organize protests, fight with injustice, and they are the future of the generation. The history of the 20th century is full of moments when student activism played an important and active role. Students are known as a power that can change the course of events. However, according to the article “Where Is Student Activism?” by Daniel Little, student activism has lost its power as of today.

Little (2012) states that young people of America do not have as much concern about political and social issues as they had in the past. In my opinion, student activism did not go anywhere – it only has changed its form. I will argue that student activism is still present these days, and it became even stronger, yet being present in the form different from conventional.


Daniel Little (2012) argues in the article “Where Is Student Activism?” that student activism is not present anymore in the political and social life of the country. He provides series of arguments based on the studies of reputable scientists such as Nella Van Dyke, for example, regarding the substantial decrease of students’ activity when it comes to some political or social controversies in the country. The series of questions are raised by the author to emphasize the significance of the problem.

Little (2012) asks, for instance, if the concern is still present in modern students regarding social problems or about the mobilization of students in cases when student activism seems apparent. It is possible that the author explores this issue from one side only. The manifestations of student activism might have changed, and it would be rather precipitous to draw conclusions and make statements without a comprehensive evaluation of the situation. Little (2012), to be honest, asks questions only, so it is important to counter the premises such as the lack of student activism manifestations and weak political and social student activity in the country that made him ask such questions.

Personal Perspective

I believe that student activism did not go anywhere, and it is still here. My point is that students have adapted to modern life and changed the methods of manifesting student activism. Conventional student activism nowadays can be defined as follows. Students go to protests and stand for their rights or the rights of social groups they consider as oppressed, but it is not such an extensive and powerful movement as it was in the past.

Protests are time-consuming, so students have probably discovered more effective ways of expressing their opinions, political, and social positions (Garret & Li, 2016). Social networks have provided young people with numerous and far more convenient tools to unite, discuss, and express their opinions. Modern student activism is technologically advanced. It has moved to the plane of social networking, blogging, and tweeting. Such an approach to drawing attention to some burning issue is much more perspective and effective than standing near some government building these days. Student activism has evolved, but it has not disappeared.

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Personal Perspective in Detail

Student activism needs to be explored in-depth to draw solid conclusions that would help to argue the questions raised by Little (2012) in his article. To do so, it is important to analyze the past, the present, and try to assume what kind of future student activism will have.

Student Activism: The Past

The history of student activism is full of events. Among the most noticeable events led by the students was the strike in San Francisco that lasted for five months in 1968. This event managed to determine the core values of the local University in such a sphere as social justice and equity and initiated the creation of the College of Ethnic Studies (Craig, 2013). It supports the idea that student activism of the past was utterly important for society, and it was a very powerful force as well.

Additionally, the motivation of students back then, in 1967 was “to have a meaningful philosophy of life” mostly rather than “getting rich” (Rosenthal & Brown, 2014). It was a mind-changing time, and student activism contributed to these changes significantly via the protests and other events of a similar nature.

Student Activism: The Present

Recent studies have shown that the motivation of the generation after that has changed substantially. According to Rosenthal and Brown (2014), the vast majority (86%) of the respondents born in the period from 1976 to 2000 said that their major goal in life was to get rich. It seems rather selfish and sounds sad. Based on such studies, Little (2012) could have come up with certain doubts regarding the present state of student activism.

On the other hand, there are studies that demonstrate promising results. Farkas (2016) states that “today’s college students are protesting more than their counterparts decades ago, according to a new survey.” The results of the Annual Freshman Survey at the University of California, Los Angeles, showed that about 10% of students would most likely join the student protests in case of such a necessity.

Astonishing 8.5% of the responses state that there is a big chance of participating in such events, which made this number the highest in the 50-year history of such surveys (Farkas, 2016). It seems very promising to be noted. The article by Rosenthal and Brown (2014) supports the idea that student activism transformed and evolved. The authors state that it became more civilized and replaced confrontation with dialogue and global involvement of people across the world.

Modern student activism is based on the technologies that connect young people across a campus, a state, a country, and the entire world. There are no boundaries online, so students use social networks like Facebook or Twitter to be active, share thoughts and ideas, organize, and manifest protests (Sivitanides & Shah, 2011). It is not necessary to be present in the USA or Europe, or Asia to be the part of the protest today.

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The internet is the medium that cannot be controlled to the extent when it is not possible to communicate because of restrictions implemented by some government or political power. There are countries, of course, that have full control over the internet (Northern Korea and China to be named), but these are only the exceptions from the rule that only support the rule (Sivitanides & Shah, 2011). A protest is present in that corner of the world where the internet is available, and a person has a device to have access to it. This is the political and social activism today adopted by students and active social groups all over the world.

Social media have become the convenient tool allowing students to be active in multiple activities. The protests in past were yet active but very limiting for students. They had to be in one place for hours. Today, an initiative student types something like #bigprotestbecauseofsomething and people follow it, join it, believe in it, and support it. The Arab Spring in Egypt can be used as the example of Twitter as the medium for a quick and very targeted communication of the protestants (Eltantawy & Wiest, 2011). The protests were prepared for January 25, 2011, using the internet as the medium of communication solely.

The benefit of social media can be presented as follows: “A major advantage of social media in the Egyptian revolution was its capacity for swiftly exchanging and disseminating information to millions of people inside and outside of Egypt” (Eltantawy & Wiest, 2011, p. 1214). It can be noticed that Egypt is not the most technologically advanced Middle Eastern country, but the simplicity and convenience of the tools had played its role. According to Eltantawy and Wiest (2011), the blog entry posted by Nawara Negm on January 21 ignited the revolution by simply publishing the words “Be noble and demonstrate on January 25” (p. 1214).

The protesters used hashtags #Jan25 and #egypt to draw the attention of the world to the events in the country. The protesters in Missouri (Mizzou) and Howard Universities organized activities using #StudentsBlackOut as the hashtag (Ransby, 2015; CNN Wire Service, 2015). The protesting students were mobilized tremendously quickly to withstand the racist incidents in these universities. Such a level of mobilization and speed of response would not be possible without social media.

Student Activism: The Future

The future of student activism is in the students’ hands. Students shape their own future, and if they see that activism and protests (in some form) can help them to achieve something in life, student activism will exist. The research of Rosas (2010) showed that student activism helps students to understand the world better, become more determined and persistent, and shape commitment to something, so it seems full of benefits for the students.

Leadership as one of the major aspects of student activism will have a serious influence on the development and further transformation of it (Pelletier, 2012). Bloggers became the power in the information environment to count with, so words mean a lot today, sometimes even more than crowds of protesting students on the streets.

Summing Up

The past, the present, and the future of student activism are tightly connected. Started as the students’ protests lasting for five months, student activism transformed into a virtual, socially networked but still powerful movement. The results of the recent surveys are very promising as well – students did not change, they want to mean something to the world and themselves.


One might say that such a shift in the method of manifesting social activism ruins the initial idea of it since people around cannot see the power of the protest, its strength. To some extent, such a conclusion is correct. However, the media in the modern world play a too important role to forget about it. It means that social media can be as effective in making protest public and internationally highlighted as massive protests in the major cities, for example.

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The importance of such a shift should not be underestimated. Students are young, passionate, and technically advanced, so the combination of these characteristics makes student activism even greater power than it was in the past. Daniel Little is right in one thing – student activism has gone, but it has gone in the form it has been known for decades. Now is the time for the new student activism.


CNN Wire Service. (2015). Amid tumult, University of Missouri taps interim system president. Web.

Craig, J. (2013). Activist state (Documentary: 1968 San Francisco student strike). Web.

Farkas, K. (2016). Student activism higher today than in previous decades, survey shows. Web.

Garret, B., & Li, A. (2016). Current freshmen more politically, socially active, report shows. The Daily Free Press. Web.

Eltantawy, N., & Wiest, J.B. (2011). Social media in the Egyptian revolution: Reconsidering resource mobilization theory. International Journal of Communication, 5, 1207–1224. Web.

Little, D. (2012). Where is student activism? Huffpost College. Web.

Pelletier, S.G. (2012). Leadership for a new era of student activism. Public Purpose. Web.

Ransby, B. (2015). From Mizzou to Yale: The resurgence of black student protest. Truthout. Web.

Rosas, M. (2010). College student activism: An exploration of learning outcomes. Web.

Rosenthal, R., & Brown, L. (2014). Then and now: Comparing today’s student activism with the 1960s. Huffpost College. Web.

Sivitanides, M., & Shah, V. (2011). The era of digital activism. In Conference for information systems applied research: CONISAR proceedings (pp. 1-7). Wilmington, USA. Web.

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