Zaman Irshad Parray
Students are in a very unique position to reflect on the future challenges of their society. They are young and relatively unencumbered and occupy a dynamic status infused with an energetic new generation each year and are more prone to become involved in social, political movements than any of their contemporaries.
Tracing the pages of history of student activism has never been more necessary as of today, because it is most needed and no other social or political movement is more non existent today. Student activism has existed almost as long as the university system itself. In the early years of higher education, way back in 1200s students would clash with the townspeople over multitude of things, from property damage to the treatment of servants. The first recorded American student activism was reported in 1638, Harvard students protested because of the Presidents use of brute force and her wife’s bad cooking. By 1800 most of these early universities were dealing with organized student protests and by the time of the Great Depression, students were beginning to organize around social issues.
Although the era of student revolutions may have ended a half-century ago, students continue to be active socially and politically and are often a key force in political movements directed towards social change around the world, the massive protests of Tahir square, Cairo and the Arab spring were the result of student involvement in the political and social change. (Students may no longer be the center of political and social movements but they are often indispensable participants).
But despite continuing activism and impressive but often ignored successes, student activism today has not received the attention that it once did. There is an Iron law of student activism: students can bring public attention to a given political issue and when there is an undercurrent of discontent may help to create political movements that may destabilize the regime. As a social group, students tend to have the leisure of time to exchange and develop ideas and organize within the tightly knit university environment and the public also tends to be sympathetic to student concerns, but the flaw, students cannot control national politics, they may infiltrate political parties but in wider political arena they may become a marginal voice.
Many had said that student activism would disappear in the era of higher education because of diverse student populations, increasingly high costs of education, the non-elite social background of most of the students and other factors argued against active social and political engagement of students, but student even today remains a potent political and social force, only the modes of our involvement have changed, students nowadays take part in online petitions, join boycotts, express views on online forums, involve themselves in advocacy on social network, participate in demonstrations and protest movements.
JNU protests that shook the whole government administration of India are a reminder of the power of student activism.
Before joining my university, I had assumed this idea that coming to the university made students more aware of politics and imparted or strengthened key political values, although university does make students more aware, socially and politically, but there is actually very little difference in values and political identities between Pre-university and university students, according to academic sociologist Nick Crossley. The key difference between the two groups is behavioral. University students act upon their values and identities and they do so because and to the extent that the shift to university allows them to hook up with a sufficient number of like minded others to reach a critical mass necessary for activism.
Whatever political values and ideologies a student group follows, as long as they carry on the student cause genuinely, they should be allowed by the administration and in cooperation with other student groups to involve themselves in student activism. It is essential that universities offer such environment for cultivating the ideals and values of student activism because and I will answer it with a Rachel Jackson quote (a little altered):
‘Our students are not failing the system. The system is failing our students. Ironically the very students who are being treated the worst are the young people who are going to lead us out of this nightmare’
I end this by praying that this serves the purpose of my writing and with a famous protest slogan:
Students are the solution; not the problem!
—The author is a law student. He can be reached at: [email protected]