On April 5, 2018, the Collegiate Times published an opinions piece with the title “Student activist culture to blame for political polarization across college campuses.” This is a response to that article.
Political and social activism for high school and college students is not a new concept. On May 4 1970, four students were slain by National Guardsmen during an anti-Vietnam War demonstration at Kent State University. This tragedy shocked the nation and sent ripples to universities across the country, including Virginia Tech. Eight days later on May 12, a small coalition of Virginia Tech students peacefully took over Williams Hall. The occupation began just after the academic day ended and continued until 6 a.m. the following day, when police attached chains to the front doors of the building and ripped them off using a truck, then proceeded to arrest all participating students. Each student was taken to Montgomery County jail and subsequently suspended. Sandy Hawthorne, the student government president at the time, was rumored to have organized the protest. The access and influence Virginia Tech students have today can be partially credited to the efforts of these student activists who took a stand.
On March 24, 2018, according to the organizers, 800,000 protesters attended the March for Our Lives Rally in Washington, D.C. organized by students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where students and faculty on Valentine’s Day 2018 were the subject of gun violence resulting in 17 people killed and 15 injured. Such a response was not seen after Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora, Sandy Hook, Pulse, Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs or the countless other incidents of gun violence. This response was only possible because of the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who stood up because adults failed to act. These events serve as inspiration that change is possible, that student activism matters. We should not be silent about issues that we believe in simply because we are students, and we certainly should not be asking our peers to mentally check out of politics or social movements. Students should not have to demand adults do their jobs, but when adults fail to act, we, students, must act.
In our community at Virginia Tech today, you can see a diverse group of student organizations advocating for political and social issues. Organizations like NextGen America and Turning Point USA, as well as clubs such as the College Republicans, Young Democrats, Young Democratic-Socialists, Young Americans for Liberty and Greens enable students to become politically active in our community. Students join these organizations because they are passionate about the issues that those groups advocate for. The idea that organizations contribute to the atmosphere of polarization is a fallacy. Nobody is an activist for the title. People become activists because they have been personally affected by an issue; students are no exception.
As members of the student government, we strongly urge that our fellow Hokies never silence their voice and always stand up and act for what they believe in. Furthermore, we call upon the student body to remain cognizant of the issues we are facing in our nation today. In the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
We are the ones we have been waiting for to change the world.