We are united

November 20, 2015

Student protests on college campuses are not something new in America. Throughout our history, there have been numerous college student activities that highlight their dissatisfaction with a political, social or academic issue. As a result, students have mobilized on their college campuses to demonstrate and voice their dissatisfaction to the college administration. A number of these issues may spread throughout the campus, to other colleges and to the community at large.

The protest issues vary and could include college policy, hikes in tuition, discrimination, an injustice, a firing of a popular instructor, limits on freedom of speech, need for more academic and support services, poor housing, and lack of diversity on staff and in administration. These protests can come in the form of sit-ins, walkouts, rallies, occupations of university offices or buildings, strikes, marches, hunger strikes, open letters, tent cities and boycotts.

Whatever the issue or whatever form is used, the student protest is about making a statement, seeking a remedy and taking a stand on something that matters to them. Some of the most notable student protests in American history occurred during the 1960s and ’70s and included the University of California, Berkeley “Free Speech Movement”; Kent State and Jackson State University shootings and the Vietnam War protests; Ole Miss and University of Alabama enrollments protests and the Columbia University unrest over weapon research.

What is truly remarkable about many of these protests is the fact that many of them involved students from across diverse backgrounds. In the most recent high level student protest that occurred on campus at the University of Missouri, the core issues centered on racial intolerance and the unwillingness of university officials to talk with protesting students. What started out with as a one-graduate-student-hunger-strike soon grew across social media, other colleges and to national headlines. But unlike many of the protests of the past, this protest had something else added to the mix and included both short and long term financial impact to the university.

This student protest changed when 32 African American players on the college football team stood in solidary with the protest and cited that they would not practice or play another game for the university until the one student ended his hunger strike. And just like that, the student protest turned into an economic impact with the possible loss of revenue from the remaining football games, conference fines and loss of donations from sponsors.

And within a matter of a few days and hours, the “little deal” had turned into a “big deal” and the University was forced to make changes and as a result the University President resigned effective immediately and later the same day the University of Missouri chancellor also resigned. However, it was the Mayor of Colombia, MO who stated that it will take more than the resignation of the university administration to bring about the change that is needed. And he is right; it takes more than that, it takes changing the culture, perception and the optics of leadership. What do you think?