The short answer to the question “Why does student protest matter?” is that because those young people are our future. I was one of them in the 80s. Now I’m a social work educator with a platform for social justice. I blog, I write Op-Ed pieces, I teach social justice and cultural competence. I was hunger striking and camping out on the admin lawn on campus. I had an opportunity to voice my concerns. I was heard and acknowledged. That propelled me to continue to be an active, critical, concerned citizen.
We should not judge, criticize, chastise, condemn, or discourage those students. Yes, someone (they and/or family members) are paying for them to be in class, learning, studying, doing homework, earning grades and degrees. AND A LOT of learning on college and university campuses occurs outside of the classroom. We should value the life lessons and experiences that enhance a young person’s life. Being aware of, concerned about, actively in changing a social ill is an important lesson. There is a lot of learning that occurs from organizing and participating in a protest. You may end up on a bus to your state’s capital to speak before the legislature. You may end up in a conference room with the Chancellor and Board of Trustees to state your concerns. You’ll most definitely end up speaking to the media. Your name and picture will end up in your college’s archives as someone who worked to make a change for the better.
Those young people at Missouri, Ithaca, Smith, Yale, and all the other campuses engaging in social protest deserve their time and space to do so. They have legitimate concerns to which we should listen. They will eventually go back to class and to the routine of taking notes, writing papers, etc. But for now, today they need to say their truth. That truth is the truth of our nation. We have a dismal record of positive race relations. These students, like the students from the 1906s are waiting to be heard. Maybe we can learn from our students.
Whether it’s at your high school or college, the voices of students matter! Their protest matters because history repeats itself and we are slow to change. Their protest matters because we need to wake up, listen, take positive action, and make true social change. Their protest matters because they speak truth. Their protest matters because they are our future. I stand, sit, lay with our students wanting to be heard!