Students are constantly asked to engage in discussions about activism – or the lack thereof – on our campus. Part of the College’s mission is to enhance the civic responsibility of its students: Beyond the Purple Valley, we are told, a malleable world exists and we should be the ones to change it. While this rhetoric pervades the campus, few students have utilized measures as extreme as being arrested to advocate for a cause they care about.
Friday’s protest in the House of Representatives by nine individuals, including four students from the College, was a reminder that we can in fact promote change. In a stunt earning coverage by the New York Times to the AP wire, students brought attention to the seemingly disjoint relationship between government and its implementation of young voters’ ideas and policy prescriptions. While no individual protest is certain to fundamentally alter the course of events, to deny protest as a means toward achieving change is unjustified. Our job right now is not to discuss the success or failure of these students’ actions; rather, it is to transport this spirit of thoughtful protest and engagement from Washington to Williamstown.
A consequence of this public form of protest – whether intended or not – is that students at the College are now actively talking about activism. Throughout this renewed discussion, we must remember an important fact: While disruption of Congress certainly makes a statement, there are many other ways for students to advance political and social ideas. The College maintains a renowned history of protest – in large and small forms – that informs our discussions and debates on the major issues of the day. Both flashy and functional activism have their place and can provide tangible benefits to the community; this renewed discussion will be most helpful if we can determine what is most practical for the College at the moment, even when there may not be a dramatic campus issue to rally around.
As a long-term response to these students’ activism, we hope that this reinvigorated campus-wide dialogue is sustained and developed. Through a quick straw poll of students at the College, it is clear that each has an issue he or she is interested in. With the events of last week in mind, we can harness those interests, develop progressive efforts at the College and perhaps develop a more nuanced understanding of activism’s role here. Only then will we truly be able to say that we live up to the College’s mission.