Universities need to clarify their role in social movements
A few weeks ago, I was sitting in a lecture when a professor suddenly asked us,“Why are you here?” The first answer that crossed my mind was the very generic “to get an education so that I can find a job” type of response. However, it wasn’t until intensely thinking about this question that I began to realize that going to college is much more than a means to an end. In the chaos of confirming whether or not one has all the necessary credits in order to graduate, I believe college students (myself included) sometimes forget that the world is bigger than the campus they walk on, and the issues that seem to only affect the outside world continue to leak into campus life. Although a university symbolizes higher education, it is not immune to the many issues American society faces.
The issues that affect the American people are also experienced by students on college campuses. Systemic problems such as prejudice, discrimination and unfair treatment of marginalized individuals continue to prevail despite the progression of society and permeate nearly all aspects of life. What’s even more shocking to me is that each year, as universities welcome a new group of students on campus, these issues still remain. I initially wanted to focus on how the university itself plays a role in social movements, but in truth, it’s the students’ act of challenging universities’ protocols that has contributed to raising awareness of social issues, not only on college campuses but also in American society as a whole.
A more recent example is the ongoing student protests at Syracuse University. Students are fearing for their lives after encountering racist and anti-Semitic sentiments in the form of graffiti and vandalism. Activities and even classes have been halted as the students staged sit-ins and protests demanding the following actions be taken by the administrators: any student involved in the hate crimes be expelled, staff and faculty undergo mandatory diversity training, the anti-harassment policy be revised, as well as providing one with the option to have same-race roommates when filling out housing applications.
As I read about the incidents at Syracuse University, I wondered if attention would have been given to such racist incidents if it had not become public. Now, not only are students fearing for their safety on campus, but the administrators at the university have to issue a response to the students’ demands while trying to preserve the dignity of the university.
However, student protests against injustices committed towards those of marginalized groups are not isolated incidents. Brandeis itself has a history of students protesting for the opportunity to be heard. This is clear from Ford Hall 1969, Ford Hall 2015 and last year, when a group of students protested to demand changes to the Department of Community Living and Public Safety policing policies. We also see protests concerning the safety of marginalized individuals in universities such as Johns Hopkins and Yale. With so many students voicing their concerns for their safety, this clearly illustrates not only an issue with the administration of these schools but also issues deeply rooted in American society that continue to instill fear in minority groups, while also trying to keep the social order of American society the way it has been decade after decade. If students don’t voice their concerns regarding the injustices they are facing at universities all over the country, then they will be no better than the perpetrators themselves.
Why is it that students of color continue to face issues regarding their safety, while others claim that America has come so far? 2019 is almost over, but issues of race and gender continue to prevail nonetheless. The areas one lives in change, fashion, music and technology that people consume change, but institutional bigotry and sexism still remain. These are issues of the past that continue to haunt the present and will continue to exist in the future unless people continue to speak out against them.
As college students, our hope is to graduate in a timely fashion and find a job that supports our future desires. But we should be asking ourselves what it would mean for us as future professionals if we continue to live in a society that refuses to shake off the racist and sexist sentiments of the past. I know that this is not the type of world I want to live in. While attending college gives us the opportunity to become educated individuals in whatever discipline we choose, we should also be aware that our college years are the prime time to question existing beliefs in society, challenge establishments that have been created long before our existence and ask ourselves whether what we are seeing is morally right.
After one accepts that there are injustices that American society continues to perpetuate, the question then becomes whether individuals, in this case students, are willing to take a risk in order to work towards a more just society. It is easy to feel apathetic about the struggles many marginalized individuals face if one has not experienced them.
For many students, their very existence on college campuses like Brandeis, Syracuse, Johns Hopkins and Yale would not have been possible without the dedication of other marginalized individuals who came before them. When the quality of one’s education and safety is threatened, the risk is worth the reward if the demands one is protesting for are met. However, even for those who are not affected by prejudices, voicing concern is an absolute necessity if American society is going to live up to the “change” many claim has occurred.