Challenges of Student Activism: Restrictive Policies and Technology

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Written By Blue & Gold NLR Team

 

 

 

 

As tensions flared up on college campuses across the U.S., police made numerous arrests at various universities, including Emerson College in Boston, the University of Texas in Austin, and USC in Los Angeles.

These arrests came on the heels of Columbia University’s controversial decision to call in the New York Police Department to disperse protesters, sparking widespread backlash.

Protests erupted on about 20 college campuses nationwide, with students setting up encampments at prominent schools like Harvard University, Brown University, and the University of Michigan. Republican figures, including House Speaker Mike Johnson, criticized university administrations for their perceived failure to control the demonstrations.

The recent surge in arrests is linked to heightened tensions surrounding the Israel-Palestine conflict. While student activism against Israel’s actions and university investments in defense companies tied to Israel isn’t new, the crackdown by university administrations represents a significant escalation.

To gain insight into these confrontations, Slate interviewed Katherine S. Cho, a professor at Loyola University in Chicago specializing in higher education and social justice activism.

Cho discussed how university responses to student protests have evolved, especially following high-profile incidents like the protests at the University of Missouri in 2015-2016 and the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in 2017.

She highlighted changes in university policies that have made it increasingly challenging for students to organize and protest. These policies, aimed at addressing concerns about campus safety and external agitators, have inadvertently restricted students’ ability to exercise their right to protest effectively.

Advancements in technology have also allowed universities to swiftly enforce consequences, such as revoking access cards and expelling students. Social media platforms like Twitter and TikTok have enabled public scrutiny of university responses to protests, holding institutions accountable for their actions.

Cho suggested that universities’ reluctance to take clear stances on contentious issues, combined with pressure from various stakeholders, may have contributed to the harsh disciplinary measures seen in recent protests.

This decision-making process seems influenced by a desire to navigate complex issues without making definitive statements, resulting in what she described as a “PR nightmare” for universities like Columbia.

Ultimately, the recent crackdown on student protests reflects a broader trend of universities grappling with the challenge of balancing campus safety, upholding free expression, and navigating contentious political issues.

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