These are not the best of times to be a college student in the United States. Spiraling tuition costs, huge post-graduation debt, and a shrinking job market could understandably demoralize an entire generation. But recent events demonstrate that college students are responding to the tough economic times not by giving up, but rather by redoubling efforts to create a more just society. In fact, as was true with the civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1960’s, today’s college students are in the vanguard of highlighting the profound disconnection between the nation’s stated ideals and its actual practices.
Students have played leading roles in the Occupy movement both on an off campus, inspiring longtime activists to regenerate their own efforts for change. On this Thanksgiving week, the students risking physical harm and school discipline to demand greater social and economic fairness truly deserve the nation’s thanks.
Ever since the 1970’s, college activists in the United States have been unfavorably compared to the purported “greatest generation” of the 1960’s. This comparison has never made sense, but should be put in the dustbin for good after the heroic actions of students in the past year.
From Dream Act to Occupy
The students leading the fight for the Dream Act were this era’s Freedom Riders. Whereas the latter put their bodies on the line, the former risked deportation. Both involved enormous personal sacrifices to create a more just society.
Throughout 2011 we have seen students mobilizing against tuition hikes, particularly in California. These protests often occurred without much off-campus support, despite the fact that rising tuition affects access to college for future generations.
In recent weeks the combined brutality against students at UC Berkeley on November 9 and UC Davis on November 18 has angered millions across the world. The incredible courage of protesters to avoid violence while beating beaten with batons and pepper-sprayed speaks to a faith in the nation’s future that we should all find inspiring.
Protests are planned for a number of campuses for November 28, the day students get back from Thanksgiving break. Few students were likely fooled by the UC Davis Chancellor’s plan to delay the result of the “investigation” of the pepper-spraying for thirty days – when students are gone for the Christmas holidays.
It should not take more than a day for the Chancellor to get to the bottom of what occurred. Her duplicity in seeking thirty days while publicly claiming that she shares the student’s anger reflects the larger forces of the 1% that effectively run our public universities.
The corporations whose “partnerships” with schools like UC Davis and UC Berkeley keep school finances afloat do not want campuses where students are free to challenge corporate prerogatives; that’s why the brutal crackdowns were no accident, and why the students’ ongoing pressure is so courageous.
Occupy has achieved much in the past months, and both in and off campus, students have played a critical role. This should encourage all progressives as we head to 2012.