Tuesday, March 22, 2016 – Student at Howard University protest to increase awareness of rape culture at the institution, after a female student brought forth rape allegations.
Saturday, September 24, 2016 – North Carolina students and Michigan State football players raise their fists in protest of the national anthem, following NFL football player Colin Kaepernick’s lead, after the murder of an unarmed Black man in Tulsa, OK.
Thursday, October 6, 2016 – The Boston University School of Social Work Student Organization led students, faculty, and staff in a rally to support the Black Lives Matter movement.
Monday, October 10, 2016 – Students at Witwatersrand University, Johannesburg, South Africa staged a massive protest to demand free education.
These are only a few examples of the student activism taking place on college campuses this year. As students seek improvements in their institutions and the society at large, they find their voices and ignite change. Over the past couple of weeks, at Lincoln University, we have watched our own students take a stand when they staged a sit-in and launched a campaign calling for improved conditions on campus. The students have repeatedly expressed concern over their academic experience as well as the quality of campus living. They are insisting on answers from the university’s president and board of trustees. Customized announcements, such as the one pictured below, have been posted throughout academic buildings and dormitories to inform the entire community of their efforts.
When I first came across the message on my office door, I noted something rather peculiar in the wording. Students seemed to anticipate that their faculty would “threaten” their movement. We are a faculty body at the first degree-granting historically black university. We come from various eras of activism, from the Civil Rights to Black Power to Black Lives Matter Movements. Collectively, we understand what it means to demand what we need in order to thrive in our environment. I could not understand why our students would suspect that we, their educators, would not support them. So, I held informal chats with a handful of them. To categorize their responses, they expressed the following:
o Students believe faculty are on the side of the administration, so it is unlikely faculty will support them.
o It seems faculty are facing many of the same challenges and feel disempowered.
o Students believe some faculty strongly support the students, but it’s not enough without the support from the administration and board of trustees.
o Students feel that most faculty have not addressed any of the academic problems in front of the student body.
These conversations with students raise the questions of how Lincoln University faculty could become more in tune with the resurgence of student activism in our world and, particularly, the current efforts of our students right in our back yard. I do not doubt that there is support for them among the faculty body, as many of us constantly assess and revise curricula for improvement, implement new programs, fight for more academic resources for student development, call for excellence and more. Yet, we must hear them when they say that support has not been widely revealed to them. How do we ensure those who look to us for guidance know we are here for them in their plight?