Tag Archives: Student Activism

Thai students take on the military using pop culture images


In Thailand, Students Take on the Military (and ‘Death Eaters’)

Thousands of young people, borrowing from Harry Potter and other pop culture touchstones, are calling on the army and its allies to get out of politics.

Chile student feminists occupy college and high school campuses, 2018

In Chile, women students organized a new “Feminism Waves” movement in 2018 to remove sexism and sexual harassment from over 30 universities when their complaints were ignored. Building on the history of student protests to make education affordable, their weapons are taking over 14 college campuses (blocking front gates) and two high schools, weeks of strikes, graffiti (e.g. “Fire to the Patriarchy”), and marches with thousands of face-painted protesters. One group marched topless with maroon balaclavas on their faces. Men are included, but not as spokesmen. Decision-making in the campus occupations is enhanced by online voting and music and theater groups perform for the occupation. The protesters demand mandatory gender-equality training for students and faculty, equal opportunity for women in academia, women’s studies in the curriculum, avoiding sexist language and off-color “jokes,” better procedure for sexual crimes, and make careers less gender-specific. In response, conservative President Sebastian Pinera organized a “Gender Agenda,” which the feminists said was inadequate—so they called for a June 6 march. “ One of the spokeswomen, law student Emilia Scheider said, “We haven’t invented anything, we are a part of history.”[i] Student occupied her campus at the University of Chile’s School of Law for each of her four years as a student.

[i] Caitlin Donohue, “Chilean Feminists Take Over 14 University Campuses,” 48 Hills, May 18, 2018.


high school activism and global citizenship

Some US high school teachers do “activist multicultural teaching,” as described in Rita Verma’s Be the Change: Teacher, Activist, Global Citizen (2010). [i]However, she faults the emphasis on test-taking and the No Child Left Behind law for making “schools akin to factories producing similar, uncritical thinkers where both teacher and student learn and teach to the test….” Some options for schools are service learning projects, hosting activist speakers, and Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR). “YPAR is a tool for increasing youth involvement in social movement organizing that can generate renewed enthusiasm for social change and create new opportunities for youth leadership.”[ii] An example is Youth United for Change (YUC), a youth organizing group in Philadelphia that did research, conducted surveys and site visits to restructure two large city high schools into smaller schools in order to better serve the students’ needs. Some schools teach about citizenship such as at the High School for Global Citizenship charter schools in Brooklyn and Chicago.[iii] The latter’s website explains, “We are developing global citizens – students who care for themselves, their communities, and the earth.” UNESCO provides teaching materials to educate citizens, based on the belief that schools “should increasingly link education and action to solve problems at the local, national and international levels. Student participation in the organization of studies and of the educational establishment they are attending should itself be considered a factor in civic education and an important element in international education.”[iv]

[i] Rita Verma, ed. Be the Change: Teacher, Activist, Global Citizen. Peter Lang, 2010.

[ii] http://cyber.harvard.edu/sites/cyber.harvard.edu/files/KBWParticipatoryActionResearch2012.pdf

[iii] http://www.hs-gc.org/


[iv] http://www.unesco.org/education/tlsf/mods/theme_b/mod07.html


Why are some people activists and others not?

Why do some young people demonstrate and protest and others stay away? A case study of 22 universities in 2010 found 22% of students took part in student protests against the UK government’s plan to triple university tuition fees, although two-thirds of the non-participants supported the protests. About 10% of students participated in demonstrations and 4% in occupations. Personal connections were the main influences; first, growing up with parents who often discussed politics and second, having activist friends. The majority (62%) of activists had previous experience being politically active before attending university. Students were more likely to visit occupations at their university if they had friends there and social science and humanities students had more activist friends than students in technical fields of study. Men were more involved than women who were less likely to discuss politics or to feel informed about politics. Researcher Alexander Hensby traced the legacy of the student protests as inspiring UK Uncut, the global Occupy Movement of 2011, and the Quebec student movement of 2012.


Alexander Hensby, “Exploring Participation and Non-Participation in the 2010/11 Student Protests Against Fees and Cuts,” Ph.D. dissertation University of Edinburgh, February 2014.


What determines student activism?

What determines university students’ political mobilization in an era when about a quarter of young people of their age group are university students? Editors of a book on Student Activism in Asia (2012), researching student social movements post-war to the early 21st century, found university student activism is inconsistent with periods of activity and inactivity. Most are liberal, aiming for democracy, but some movements are right wing or religious. Even in peak periods, most students are not involved although they are often gathered together on urban campuses, they’re taught to think critically, they don’t have families to support, and they’re usually allowed some form of student government organization. Student power is based on self-identity as an activist, influenced by the university system, the government, other social movements and allies, and the national economic development.[1] As democracy spreads, universities expand, and international models fade, these forces oppose massive student movements. Like other scholars, they didn’t predict the youth-led uprisings of 2011.

The post-colonial expansion of access to universities replacing a few elite universities led to a decrease in activism as students no longer felt privileged by their special status to monitor their governments. Also, more graduates are associated with more competition for jobs and more unemployment, and therefore more caution about challenging the status quo. Some movements encouraged students in other countries and participated in international student organizations, but their activism was mainly localized. The waves identified by Weiss and Aspinall are a leftist egalitarian wave during the Cold War from the late 1950s to the early 1970s, a New Left wave protesting government emphasis on economic development starting in the late 1960s to the 1980s, and a wave for democracy in opposition to authoritarian regimes beginning in the 1980s in a period of massification of the university system. Transnationalism was made more difficult by censorship of student media. Weiss and Aspinall reported a decline in the power of student protests in the last two decades.[2] Student movements are most likely to arise when other political forces are repressed: “Authoritarian regimes and student protest are often entwined in a fateful embrace.”[3] Their research would explain student activism of 2011 and beyond as enabled by spread of social media that exposed the corruption of ruling regimes and enabled protesters to learn from their peers around the world.

[1] Weiss and Aspinall, p. 28.

[2] Weiss and Aspinall, p. 281.

[3] Weiss and Aspinall, p. 282.