In New Podcast, Doctoral Student Discusses Student Activism
Short Talks From The Hill, a podcast from the University of Arkansas, highlights research and scholarly work across the campus. Each segment features a university researcher discussing his or her work.
DeLani Bartlette: Hello and welcome to Short Talks From the Hill, a podcast from the University of Arkansas. My name is DeLani Bartlett. On this episode, we’ll be talking to David Toliver, a doctoral student in public policy in the College of Education and Health Professions, about his recently published book, Student Activism As A Vehicle For Change On College Campuses. Welcome David.
David Tolliver: Thank you!
DB: Your book is really timely right now so I’m really glad that you’re coming to talk to us about it right now. Up until recently most people I think when they thought about student activism, they would think about the campus protests of the ‘60s and ‘70s where you had students protesting the Vietnam War, or advocating for civil rights for women, people of color, gays and lesbians. But at that time, the ‘60s and ‘70s, most college students didn’t even have the most basic rights of free speech and association. Can you talk a little bit about why that was and what it meant for college activists then?
DT: Yes, there is a term, “in loco parentis,” that universities used as a policy. Really that means, in Italian, “the right of the parent,” and it is really an institutional policy that historically universities to be able to, not so much just control, but also be able…be accountable for student’s actions and behavior. Really this was…a British legal scholar by the name of William Blackstone, who was a legal scholar, actually wrote about this in the late 1700s and it was wildly adopted by universities. So during this time, the universities really controlled the actions of students. For all students, this became an issue when students realized that many of their rights were taken away by in loco parentis. So really in the 1960s, after many court cases that students had against their respective universities in 1960s, one case did win. This case really led to the demise of in loco parentis, and it really opened the door for all students, through activism, to really gain these rights as students on college campuses. What’s really ironic about this is that in loco parentis really came about from a different protest. There were actually African-American students who were sitting in and using that as a strategy and in response to that, in loco parentis is also a right that all students gained another protest in the 1960s which was as sit-in by students.
DB: So in what ways have you seen that student activism has changed since then?
DT: I’ll say that…one of the, since the 1960s and 70s, I will say that many of the strategies and methods that activists use, such as sit-ins, marches, food strikes and boycotts, and gaining media coverage has stayed the same. But it has been used by a new generation of activists who have also learned to use technology as a means to organize or to be able to give their opinions online and have really a space to be able to communicate their concerns, issues or frustrations. So, I would say that the advancement of technology is definitely a huge change. It also allows students to respond and to organize quickly; to be able to use social networks in order to organize and to communicate to supporters. Also it gives many people an opportunity, not just activists, but people that may not have participated in activism… it gives them another avenue to really engage themselves in a conversation with a particular issue. So technology’s ability to really advance opportunities for activism and organization is really a huge difference that has been made since then.
DB: What are some of the different reasons, though your studies, that you found that students engage in activism?
DT: Well, some of the reasons, and obviously there are more than three, but some that we speak about is, one is student development. Students, it’s really important for universities to really engage with student activists and provide a space for students to be able to voice their opinions, to explain the concerns they may have with issues. And also some activists join because of a social network, because maybe their friends and understanding and showing solidarity to maybe their friends or social network they have. But also because students really have certain issues that they also, prior to actually attending college, may have experienced. And once they get to college, it’s not only a place to be able to develop, but it’s also a place to really gather with others that may feel like you, or who have similar issues that you may have. Really, with similar issues then these are people that are, maybe have similar values, and they can be able to congregate together and understand that it’s not, you know, just the differences that some may have, but also the similarities of the issues and how it might be impacting them, their families or impacting their communities also at home.
DB: In your book, you describe some recent examples of student activism that have gotten some pretty big press coverage. I’m going to pick out just one with the issue of racism at the University of Missouri-Columbia. That actually prompted several different forms of activism, is that correct? And eventually the resignation of the university President. Would you like to talk a little bit about that and what lessons we can maybe learn from that?
DT: Yes, on the campus of the University of Missouri, the issue of racism was really by a student group who realized that really issues weren’t being resolved, weren’t being paid attention to. So usually students try to use the traditional channels of student engagement or student governance to alleviate these types of issues, but once the university or the leaders of a governance structure ignore or either do not reply in the time that it needs to be, especially when your undergoing prejudice and discrimination, then activism occurs. This is what students felt like they needed to do in order to gain attention, but also as a policy tool to get their issue on the agenda. Which really meaning that university administration needed to take this seriously.
DB: So, any other thoughts or advice for administrators and faculty from your studies?
DT: Yes sure. One for administrators is to understand, is to pay attention to these cases, such as the University of Missouri, University of Berkley, with City University of New York, and so many others across the country, to really pay attention to students’ needs and to student’s issues. That it’s not just an issue that students are raising just for the fun of it, but its actually something university administrators really need to take seriously. As far as faculty, I would like faculty and staff to understand that you can be an activist as well and create a safe space on campus or in your classrooms for students to be able to voice their opinions and really creating a comfortable space for students to feel like someone is actually hearing them and actually taking their concerns seriously.
DB: That’s really good advice. Thank you so much, David.
DT: Thank you.
Matt McGowan: Music for Short Talks From the Hill was written and performed by Ben Harris, guitar instructor at the University of Arkansas. For more information and additional podcasts go to KUAF.com or researchfrontiers.uark.edu; the home of research news at the University of Arkansas.