For the politically-engaged student, sometimes campus activism is just a rite of passage. But in these post-Occupy times, with loan debt soaring and job prospects dimming, student movements around the country are gaining momentum and tapping into some deep national concerns. Here's your guide to the latest on youth activism, from where they're happening across the country and why they matter:
1) Ohio Makes Noise Against Tuition Hikes
The activist Ohio University Student Union group disrupted a Board of Trustees meeting where tuition increases were passed, not long after 200 students clashed with police over the same issue.
"We are demanding that all administrator and athletic coach salaries over $100,000 be frozen until our tuition is frozen," the group wrote.
Why It Matters: Tuition increases are out of control, having gone up 1,120 percent since 1978 and 15 percent just between 2008 and 2010. Demanding salary freezes might seem unrealistic, since trustees say the salary increases are reasonable and necessary to stay competitive. But by drawing such a line in the sand, students can start challenging their administrators' priorities and embolden other campuses to do the same. Business as usual, they remind us, will only keep pushing that scary tuition trend line higher, hurting students more.
2) Chicago Strikes Again:
You probably remember last fall's teacher strikes, but now it's the students who are picketing. Last week, nearly 100 high school juniors walked out of classes in Chicago to protest over-reliance on standardized testing and the closure of 54 public schools in the city. The number was impressive, given that some teachers tried to warn students away by claiming their college admissions would be in jeopardy.
On the same day, low-wage workers in the fast food and retail industry also walked off the job in Chicago, demanding a $15/hour living wage. Many of the striking students said they were inspired by those marchers, and joined them after their own picket.
Why It Matters: Both strikes are about the lives of young people—the quality of the education they receive as well as the quality of the jobs they can expect to get later. If your brand-new anthropology degree is barely getting you a job at Starbucks, you should be encouraged by the young workers clamoring for a living wage in the Windy City (with bold if unrealistic demands, much like the Ohio students).
Some argue that corporate education "reform" can lead to school closures and other controversial policies that don't lead to better outcomes for students.
"Both of these strikes, and the CTU strike a few months ago, are part of a real effort amongst working people to reclaim the strike as something much broader than how we've come to think about it," Matthew Lufkin, a CTU organizer, told Campus Progress. "It's a fight over whether good and public neighborhood schools will ever exist in black communities in Chicago."
3) Michigan Fights For Undocumented Rights:
Student and immigrant activists in Michigan got arrested for blocking traffic in an act of civil disobedience, not long after 6 busloads of activists from Detroit marched in a massive immigrants' rights rally in Washington, DC.
The arrested activists, members of the groups One Michigan and Coalition for Tuition Equality, were protesting for the right of undocumented students to pay in-state tuition.
Why It Matters: DREAMers deserve a fair shot at a good education in the country they love. With conservatives bowing to demographic pressures on immigration reform, now is the moment to push for real change that will improve the lives of DREAMers and non-DREAMers alike.
4) "Dartmouth Has a Problem"
Student protesters at Dartmouth, trying to call attention to serious problems with sexual assault, racism, and rape culture at their school, interrupted a campus tour for prospective students with chants of "Dartmouth has a problem!"
As if to prove their point, an ugly backlash followed. Fellow students issued death threats and made racist or sexist remarks.
According to The Chronicle of Higher Education:
The comments offered streams of profanity-laced insults about the protesters' ostensible sexual orientations and appearance, and included calls for physical violence against them involving razor blades and other weapons.
"Why do we even admit minorities if they're just going to whine?" one commenter asked. "Wish I had a shotgun. Would have blown those [expletive] hippies away," wrote another.
What's more, when administrators cancelled classes in response to the backlash, they seemed to blame the protesters and lump their behavior in with that of those making threats against them.
Why It Matters: Rape culture is alive and well in America, and victim-blaming has permeated the media lately. From the Steubenville trial, where CNN anchors openly sympathized with the convicted rapists and community members vilified the victim, to the hateful "you deserve rape" comments at University of Arizona, to the horror experienced by women all over the world from Amherst to India, recent stories about sexual assault have revealed a shocking viciousness towards survivors in society at large. That kind of viciousness only gets nastier upon exposure, but only repeated exposure will help root it out.