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Student activism

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Student activism

City University of Hong Kong students staging sit-in during 2014 Hong Kong protests over blocking of electoral reforms
Students demonstrating against university privatization in Athens, Greece, 2007
Shimer College students protesting threatened changes to the school's democratic governance, 2010
Tufts University students demonstrating for disinvestment from fossil fuels, 2013

Student activism is work by students to cause political, environmental, economic, or social change. Although often focused on schools, curriculum, and educational funding, student groups have influenced greater political events.[1]

Modern student activist movements vary widely in subject, size, and success, with all kinds of students in all kinds of educational settings participating, including public and private school students; elementary, middle, senior, undergraduate, and graduate students; and all races, socio-economic backgrounds, and political perspectives.[2] Some student protests focus on the internal affairs of a specific institution; others focus on broader issues such as a war or dictatorship. Likewise, some student protests focus on an institution's impact on the world, such as a disinvestment campaign, while others may focus on a regional or national policy's impact on the institution, such as a campaign against government education policy. Although student activism is commonly associated with left-wing politics, right-wing student movements are not uncommon; for example, large student movements fought on both sides of the apartheid struggle in South Africa.[3]

Student activism at the university level is nearly as old as the university itself. Students in Paris and Bologna staged collective actions as early as the 13th century, chiefly over town and gown issues.[4] Student protests over broader political issues also have a long pedigree. In Joseon Dynasty Korea, 150 Sungkyunkwan students staged an unprecedented remonstration against the king in 1519 over the Kimyo purge.[5]


  • By country 1
    • Argentina 1.1
    • Australia 1.2
    • Bangladesh 1.3
    • Canada 1.4
    • Chile 1.5
    • China 1.6
    • Eastern Europe and the post-Soviet Union states 1.7
    • France 1.8
    • Germany 1.9
    • Indonesia 1.10
    • Iran 1.11
    • Israel 1.12
    • Japan 1.13
    • Malaysia 1.14
    • México 1.15
    • South Korea 1.16
    • Ukraine 1.17
    • United Kingdom 1.18
    • United States 1.19
    • Taiwan 1.20
  • See also 2
    • Organizations 2.1
  • References 3
  • Further reading 4
  • External links 5

By country


Students raise the flag of Argentina at the University of Córdoba, 1918

In Argentina, as elsewhere in Latin America, the tradition of student activism dates back to at least the 19th century, but it was not until after 1900 that it became a major political force.[6] in 1918 student activism triggered a general modernization of the universities especially tending towards democratization, called the University Revolution (Spanish: revolución universitaria).[7] The events started in Córdoba and were accompanied by similar uprisings across Latin America.[6]


Australian Students have a long history of being active in political debates. This is particularly true in the newer universities that have been established in suburban areas.[8]

For much of the 20th century, the major campus organizing group across Australia was the Australian Union of Students, which was founded in 1937 as the Union of Australian University Students.[9] The AUS folded in 1984.[10] It was replaced by the National Union of Students in 1987.[11]


Student politics of Bangladesh is reactive, confrontational and violent. Student organizations act as the armament of the political parties they are part of. So every now and then there are affrays and commotions. Over the years, political clashes and factional feuds in the educational institutes killed many, seriously hampering academic atmosphere. To check those hitches, universities have no options but go to lengthy and unexpected closures. So classes are not completed on time and there are session jams.

The student wings of ruling parties dominate the campuses and residential halls through crime and violence to enjoy various unauthorized facilities. They control the residential halls to manage seats in favor of their party members and loyal pupils. They eat and buy for free from the restaurants and shops nearby. They extort and grab tenders to earn illicit money. They take money from the freshmen candidates and put pressures on teachers to get an acceptance for them. They take money from the job seekers and put pressures on university administrations to appoint them.[12]


Students protest against Bill 78 in Montreal, 2012.


  • University of Washington Libraries Digital Collections - Vietnam Era Ephemera This collection contains leaflets and newspapers that were distributed on the University of Washington campus during the decades of the 1960s and 1970s. They reflect the social environment and political activities of the youth movement in Seattle during that period.
  • Campus Activism (Networking site with resources for student activists)

External links

  • Still the Earth Jumps Back: Student Uprisings Then and Now Santa Barbara, CA, SBDisorientation Collective, 2006.
  • Guide to Social Change Led By and With Young People Olympia, WA: CommonAction, 2006.
  • Student activists become more media-savvy by David Linhardt, The New York Times (
  • History of Student Activism from Campus Compact.
  • Brax, Ralph S. "The first student movement." Port Washington, NY : Kennikat Press, 1980.
  • Carson, Claybourne. "In Struggle, SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s." Cambridge Massachusetts: Harvard University Press., 1981
  • Cohen, Robert. "When the old left was young." New York : Oxford University Press, 1993.
  • Fletcher, Adam. (2005) "Meaningful Student Involvement Series." HumanLinks Foundation.
  • Kreider, Aaron ed. "The SEAC Organizing Guide." Student Environmental Action Coalition, 2004.
  • Loeb, Paul. "Generation at the Crossroads: Apathy and Action on the American Campus." New Brunswick, N.J. : Rutgers University Press, 1994.
  • McGhan, Barry. "The Student Movement: Where do you stand?" Time Magazine, 1971.
  • Sale, Kirkpatrick. "SDS: Ten Years Towards a Revolution." New York, Random House, 1973.
  • Students for a Democratic Society. "Port Huron Statement." Author, 1962.
  • Vellela, Tony. "New Voices: Student Activism in the 80s and 90s." Boston, MA: South End Press, 1988.
  • Manabu Miyazaki; Toppamono: Outlaw. Radical. Suspect. My Life in Japan's Underworld (2005, Kotan Publishing, ISBN 0-9701716-2-5)
  • Student Movements in India, An AICUF Publication, Chennai 1999

Further reading

  1. ^ Fletcher, A. (2005) Guide to Social Change Led By and With Young People Olympia, WA: CommonAction.
  2. ^ Fletcher, A. (2006)Washington Youth Voice Handbook Olympia, WA: CommonAction.
  3. ^
  4. ^ Boren 2013, pp. 9-10.
  5. ^
  6. ^ a b Boren 2013, p. 68.
  7. ^ Boren 2013, p. 71.
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ Barcan, p. 330.
  11. ^ Barcan 2002, p. 330.
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^ Palaeologu 2009, p. 59.
  15. ^ Palaeologu 2009, p. 96.
  16. ^ Palaeologu 2009, pp. 228-220.
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^ Cadena Nacional de Radio y Televisión: Presidente Piñera anunció Gran Acuerdo Nacional por la Educación Government of Chile. July 5, 2011. Accessdate July 5, 2011
  23. ^ Canales, Javier. La Tercera July 18, 2011. Access date July 18, 2011
  24. ^ a b c d
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^ Mitchell 2012, pp. 81-86.
  29. ^ Boren 2013, p. 149-150.
  30. ^ Boren 2013, p. 151.
  31. ^
  32. ^ Boren 2013, p. 149.
  33. ^
  34. ^ Boren 2013, pp. 127-128.
  35. ^ Boren 2013, p. 128.
  36. ^
  37. ^ a b O'Rourke 2002, p. 13.
  38. ^ Boren 2013, p. 198-199.
  39. ^
  40. ^
  41. ^
  42. ^
  43. ^
  44. ^
  45. ^
  46. ^
  47. ^ Ando 2013, p. 60.
  48. ^
  49. ^
  50. ^
  51. ^ Mueller 2014, p. 98.
  52. ^ Boren 2013, pp. 170-171.
  53. ^
  54. ^
  55. ^
  56. ^
  57. ^
  58. ^
  59. ^
  60. ^
  61. ^
  62. ^ Smith, P. H. J. (2007)Student revolution in 1960s Britain: Myth or reality?
  63. ^
  64. ^ Boren 2013, p. 96.
  65. ^ Flacks, 1988.
  66. ^ Boren 2013, p. 114.
  67. ^
  68. ^ HoSang, D. (2003). Youth and Community Organizing Today New York: Funders Collaborative on Youth Organizing.
  69. ^ Weiss, M. (2004) Youth Rising.
  70. ^ Rebecca Hamilton (2011) , Palgrave Macmillan (2011)Fighting for Darfur: Public Action and the Struggle to Stop Genocide.



See also


Major contemporary campaigns include work for funding of SDS in 2006.

American society saw an increase in student activism again in the 1990s. The popular education reform movement has led to a resurgence of populist student activism against standardized testing and teaching,[68] as well as more complex issues including military/industrial/prison complex and the influence of the military and corporations in education[69] There is also increased emphasis on ensuring that changes that are made are sustainable, by pushing for better education funding and policy or leadership changes that engage students as decision-makers in schools.

The largest student strike in American history took place in May and June 1970, in response to the Kent State shootings and the American invasion of Cambodia. Over four million students participated in this action.[67]

The Weather Underground. Another successful group was Ann Arbor Youth Liberation, which featured students calling for an end to state-led education. Also notable were the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Atlanta Student Movement, predominantly African American groups that fought against racism and for integration of public schools across the US.

In the Eleanor Roosevelt.[64]

A US demonstration against the Vietnam War, 1967

United States

Student protests erupted again in 2010 during the Premiership of David Cameron over the issue of tuition fees, higher education funding cuts and withdrawal of the Education Maintenance Allowance.[63]

In 1966 the Radical Student Alliance and Vietnam Solidarity Campaign were formed, both of which became centres for the protest movement. However, the first student sit-in was held at the London School of Economics in 1967 by their Student's Union over the suspension of two students. Its success and a national student rally of 100,000 held in the same year is usually considered to mark the start of the movement. Up until the mid-1970s student activities were held including a protest of up to 80,000 strong in Grosvenor Square, anti-racist protests and occupations in Newcastle, the breaking down of riot control gates and forced closure of the London School of Economics, and Jack Straw becoming the head of the NUS for the RSA. However, many protests were over more local issues, such as student representation in college governance,[62] better accommodation, lower fees or even canteen prices.

However, it was not until the 1960s that student activism became important in British universities. Here, like many other countries, the Vietnam war and issues of racism became a focus for many other local frustrations, such as fees and student representation. In 1962, the first student protest against the Vietnam War was held, with CND. However, student activism did not begin on a large scale until the mid-1960s. In 1965, a student protest of 250 students was held outside Edinburgh's American embassy and the beginning of protests against the Vietnam war in Grovesnor square. It also saw the first major teach-in in Britain in 1965, where students debated the Vietnam War and alternative non-violent means of protest at the London School of Economics, sponsored by the Oxford Union.[61]

Student political activism has existed in U.K since the 1880s with the formation of the National Union of Students formed in 1921. However, the NUS was designed to be specifically outside of "political and religious interests", reducing its importance as a centre for student activism. During the 1930s students began to become more politically involved with the formation of many socialist societies at universities, ranging from social democratic to Marxist–Leninist and Trotskyite, even leading to Brian Simon, a communist, becoming head of the NUS.[60]

Student occupation at Cambridge University, 2010

United Kingdom


South Korea

More recent student movements include Yo Soy 132 in 2012. Yo Soy 132 was a social movement composed for the most part of Mexican university students from private and public universities, residents of Mexico, claiming supporters from about 50 cities around the world.[53] It began as opposition to the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) candidate Enrique Peña Nieto and the Mexican media's allegedly biased coverage of the 2012 general election.[54] The name Yo Soy 132, Spanish for "I Am 132", originated in an expression of solidarity with the original 131 protest's initiators. The phrase drew inspiration from the Occupy movement and the Spanish 15-M movement.[55][56][57] The protest movement was self-proclaimed as the "Mexican spring" (an allusion to the Arab Spring) by its first spokespersons,[58] and called the "Mexican occupy movement" in the international press.[59]

During the protests of 1968, Mexican government killed an estimated 30 to 300 students and civilian protesters. This killing is known as in the Tlatelolco massacre. killing of an estimated 30 to 300 students and civilians by military and police on October 2, 1968, in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas in the Tlatelolco section of Mexico City. The events are considered part of the Mexican Dirty War, when the government used its forces to suppress political opposition. The massacre occurred 10 days before the opening of the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City.[52]

A Yo Soy 132 march, 2012


The largest student movement in Malaysia is the Solidariti Mahasiswa Malaysia (SMM)(Student Solidarity of Malaysia). SMM is a coalition group that represents numerous student organizations.[51] Currently, SMM is actively campaigning against the UUCA and a free education at primary, secondary and tertiary level.

In Kuala Lumpur on 14 April 2012, student activists camped out at Independence Square and marched against a government loan program that they said charged students high interest rates and left them with debt.[50]

Since the act prohibiting students from expressing "support, sympathy or opposition" to any political party was enacted in 1971, Malaysian students have repeatedly demanded that the ban on political involvement be rescinded. The majority of students are not interested in politics because they are afraid that the universities will take action against them. The U.U.C.A. (also known by its Malaysian acronym AUKU) not however been entirely successful in eliminating student activism and political engagement.[49]

Since the amendment of Section 15 of the Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 (UUCA) in 1975, students were barred from being members of, and expressing support or opposition to, any political parties or "any organization, body or group of persons which the Minister, after consultation with the Board, has specified in writing to the Vice-Chancellor to be unsuitable to the interests and well-being of the students or the University." However, in October 2011, the Court of Appeal ruled that the relevant provision in Section 15 UUCA was unconstitutional due to Article 10 of the Federal Constitution pertaining to freedom of expression.[48]


Japanese student movement began during the Taishō Democracy, and grew in activity after World War II. They were mostly carried out by activist students. One such event was the Anpo opposition movement, which occurred during 1960, in opposition to the Anpo treaty.[46] In the subsequent student uprising in 1968, leftist activists barricaded themselves in Universities, resulting in armed conflict with the Japanese police force.[47] Some wider causes were supported including opposition to the Vietnam War and apartheid, and for the acceptance of the hippie lifestyle.

Waseda University students rally in support of Tibet, 2008


In Israel the students were amongst the leading figures in the 2011 Israeli social justice protests that grew out of the Cottage cheese boycott.[45]


In 2009, after the disputed presidential election, a series of student protests broke out, which became known as the Iranian Green Movement. The violent measures used by the Iranian government to suppress these protests have been the subject of widespread international condemnation.[44]

[43] In the May 2005

At the end of 2002, students held mass demonstrations protesting the death sentence of reformist lecturer Hashem Aghajari for alleged blasphemy. In June 2003, several thousand students took to the streets of Tehran in anti-government protests sparked by government plans to privatise some universities.[40]

Recent years have seen several incidents when liberal students have clashed with the Iranian government, most notably the Iranian student riots of July 1999. Several people were killed in a week of violent confrontations that started with a police raid on a university dormitory, a response to demonstrations by a group of students of Tehran University against the closure of a reformist newspaper. Akbar Mohammadi was given a death sentence, later reduced to 15 years in prison, for his role in the protests. In 2006, he died at Evin prison after a hunger strike protesting the refusal to allow him to seek medical treatment for injuries suffered as a result of torture.[39]

In Iran, students have been at the forefront of protests both against the pre-1979 secular monarchy and, in recent years, against the theocratic islamic republic. Both religious and more moderate students played a major part in Ruhollah Khomeini's opposition network against the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.[38] In January 1978 the army dispersed demonstrating students and religious leaders, killing several students and sparking a series of widespread protests that ultimately led to the Iranian Revolution the following year. On November 4, 1979, militant Iranian students calling themselves the Muslim Students Following the Line of the Imam seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran holding 52 embassy employees hostage for a 444 days (see Iran hostage crisis).

Sharif University of Technology students protest over the 2009 presidential election


Student groups also played a key role in Suharto's 1998 fall by initiating large demonstrations that gave voice to widespread popular discontent with the president in the aftermath of the May 1998 riots.[36] High school and university students in Jakarta, Yogyakarta, Medan, and elsewhere were some of the first groups willing to speak out publicly against the military government. Student groups were a key part of the political scene during this period. Upon taking office after Suharto stepped down, B. J. Habibie made numerous mostly unsuccessful overtures to placate the student groups that had brought down his predecessor. When that failed, he sent a combined force of police and gangsters to evict protesters occupying a government building by force.[37] The ensuing carnage left two students dead and 181 injured.[37]

During the political turmoil of the 1960s, right-wing student groups staged demonstrations calling for then-President Sukarno to eliminate alleged Communists from his government, and later demanding that he resign.[34] Sukarno did step down in 1967, and was replaced by Army general Suharto.[35]

Sumpah Pemuda) helped to give voice to anti-colonial sentiments.

Early delegation of Java Youth


In the 1960s, the worldwide upswing in student and youth radicalism manifested itself through the German Socialist Student Union. The movement in Germany shared many concerns of similar groups elsewhere, such as the democratisation of society and opposing the Vietnam War, but also stressed more nationally specific issues such as coming to terms with the legacy of the Nazi regime and opposing the German Emergency Acts.

In May 1832 the pamphlet Der Hessische Landbote that were events that led to the revolutions in the German states in 1848.

In 1819 the student Karl Ludwig Sand murdered the writer August von Kotzebue, who had scoffed at liberal student organisations.

In 1815 in Wartburg festival at Wartburg Castle, at Eisenach in Thuringia, on the occasion of which reactionary books were burnt.

Procession of students at Wartburg Festival


The events in Paris were followed by student protests throughout the world. The German student movement participated in major demonstrations against proposed emergency legislation. In many countries, the student protests caused authorities to respond with violence. In Spain, student demonstrations against Franco's dictatorship led to clashes with police. A student demonstration in Mexico City ended in a storm of bullets on the night of October 2, 1968, an event known as the Tlatelolco massacre. Even in Pakistan, students took to the streets to protest changes in education policy, and on November 7 two college students died after police opened fire on a demonstration.[31] The global reverberations from the French uprising of 1968 continued into 1969 and even into the 1970s.[32]

In France, student activists have been influential in shaping public debate. In May 1968 the University of Paris at Nanterre was closed due to problems between the students and the administration.[29] In protest of the closure and the expulsion of Nanterre students, students of the Sorbonne in Paris began their own demonstration.[30] The situation escalated into a nation-wide insurrection.

Occupation of the University of Lyon Law School, 1968


Opponents of the "color revolutions" have accused the Soros Foundations and/or the United States government of supporting and even planning the revolutions in order to serve western interests.[28] Supporters of the revolutions have argued that these allegations are greatly exaggerated, and that the revolutions were positive events, morally justified, whether or not Western support had an influence on the events.

Otpor has inspired other youth movements in Zubr in Belarus and MJAFT! in Albania.

Student-dominated youth movements have also played a central role in the "Slobodan Milošević, ultimately resulting in his defeat.[26]

During communist rule, students in Eastern Europe were the force behind several of the best-known instances of protest. The chain of events leading to the 1956 Hungarian Revolution was started by peaceful student demonstrations in the streets of Budapest, later attracting workers and other Hungarians. In Czechoslovakia, one of the most known faces of the protests following the Soviet-led invasion that ended the Prague Spring was Jan Palach, a student who committed suicide by setting fire to himself on January 16, 1969. The act triggered a major protest against the occupation.[25]

MJAFT! protest in Albania

Eastern Europe and the post-Soviet Union states

One of the most important acts of student activism in Chinese history is the 1919 May Fourth Movement that saw over 3,000 students of Peking University and other schools gathered together in front of Tiananmen and holding a demonstration. It is regarded as an essential step of the democratic revolution in China, and it had also give birth to Chinese Communism. Anti-Americanism movements led by the students during the Chinese Civil War were also instrumental in discrediting the KMT government and bring the Communist victory in China.[24] In 1989, the democracy movement led by the students at the Tiananmen Square protests ended in a brutal government crackdown which would later be called a massacre.

Since the defeat of the Qing Dynasty during the First (1839–1842) and Second Opium Wars (1856–1860), student activism has played a significant role in the modern Chinese history.[24] Fueled mostly by Chinese nationalism, Chinese student activism strongly believes that young people are responsible for China's future.[24] This strong nationalistic belief has been able to manifest in several forms such as Democracy, anti-Americanism and Communism.[24]

Students from the Peking University protesting on Tiananmen Square in 1919


The first clear government response to the protests was a proposal for a new education fund[22] and a cabinet shuffle which replaced Minister of Education Joaquín Lavín[23] and was seen as not fundamentally addressing student movement concerns. Other government proposals were also rejected.

From 2011 to 2013, Chile was rocked by a series of student-led nationwide protests across Chile, demanding a new framework for education in the country, including more direct state participation in secondary education and an end to the existence of profit in higher education. Currently in Chile, only 45% of high school students study in traditional public schools and most universities are also private. No new public universities have been built since the end of the Chilean transition to democracy in 1990, even though the number of university students has swelled. Beyond the specific demands regarding education, the protests reflected a "deep discontent" among some parts of society with Chile's high level of inequality.[21] Protests have included massive non-violent marches, but also a considerable amount of violence on the part of a side of protestors as well as riot police.

Chilean students demonstrate for greater public involvement in education


Since the 1970s, PIRGs (Public Interest Research Groups) have been created as a result of Student Union referendums across Canada in individual provinces. Like their American counterparts, Canadian PIRGs are student directed, run, and funded.[20] Most operate on a consensus decision making model. Despite efforts at collaboration, Canadian PIRGs are independent of each other.

In 2012, the Quebec Student Movement arose due to an increase of tuition of 75%; that took students out of class and into the streets because that increase did not allow students to comfortably extend their education, because of fear of debt or not having money at all. Following elections that year, premier Jean Charest promised to repeal anti-assembly laws and cancel the tuition hike.[19]

Anti-Bullying Day (a.k.a. Pink Shirt Day) was created by high school students David Shepherd, and Travis Price of Berwick, Nova Scotia,[18] and is now celebrated annually across Canada.

In 1968, SDU (Students for a Democratic University) was formed at McGill and Simon Fraser Universities. SFU SDU, originally former SUPA members and New Democratic Youth, absorbed members from the campus Liberal Club and Young Socialists. SDU was prominent in an Administration occupation in 1968, and a student strike in 1969.[16] After the failure of the student strike, SDU broke up. Some members joined the IWW and Yippies (Youth International Party). Other members helped form the Vancouver Liberation Front in 1970. The War Measures Act after 95 bombings in the October Crisis. This was the only peacetime use of the War Measures Act.[17]

Members moved to the CYC or became active leaders in CUS (Canadian Union of Students), leading the CUS to assume the mantle of New Left student agitation. [15]

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