Thursday, April 11, 2013

Thoughts on Student Activism, Student Affairs, & IU on Strike

“I wish they looked less at our tactics and more at the ideas behind them.”

(Student member of IU on Strike, personal communication, 2013)

From IU on Strike's tumblr page:

Yesterday afternoon at the Indiana Memorial Union I met with one of the organizers of IU on Strike, a movement that grew out of Occupy IU and today is going “on strike” on Indiana University’s campus (Fater &Stefanski, 2013). You can find out more from them via their Twitter and Tumblr pages.

Student activism is an interesting topic within my chosen field of student affairs & higher education. There are those who lament the apathy of current college students. There are those who quietly scorn them, already disenchanted themselves on the efforts of a few to make effective change.

And then there are those like me, who embrace the Student Personnel Point of View (1949) perspective that believes one of the goals of higher education is “Education for a fuller realization of democracy in every phase of living” (p.2).

I’ve been observing the IU on Strike movement this year because of my own past experiences with student activism at Bowling Green State University and my work experience as a community organization with BUILD in Lexington, KY. To me, there is nothing more important than students becoming engaged in their community and working towards social justice and democracy.

I admit my experience with activism is much different than the IU on Strike students. As a student representative through the Undergraduate Student Government I worked with the system to make change – and then, when the system did not yield during a few situations, I worked outside of it, such as the time a group of good people and I fundraised nearly $7,000 to pay the salary of a victim advocate position in the BGSU Women’s Center. Over the years there was success, there was failure, and there were some things I wish I had done differently. Yet thanks to those experiences I am an engaged citizen, just like the SPPV (1949) desired :)

But regardless of my different experiences compared to IU on Strike, I want to understand. Because with a growing sense of horror (in a way), I realize that I am the Man. I work for the university. I work for the establishment. There are those who would not recognize me as a peer today that once may have.

My role is shifting.

And as it does, I cannot help but wonder about student activism and administrative responses. This is why I am working on a paper to explore the history of student activism and meeting with students from IU on Strike. I want to understand.

Student Affairs personnel need to come to an understanding as well regarding the needs and desires of our students in relation to their passions and activism.  We need contemplate our role within the system and with our students.

“For me, the strike is a lot more about calling attention to these demands and letting the administration know we’re not OK with this...than a dialogue with the administration about how exactly they should go about doing these things,” IU on Strike representative Kelly Thomas said.”

Some food for thought:

  1.  Student activists like IU on Strike state that their goal is to draw attention to the issues but not engage the administration because they do not trust the university administration or the police. Why is there a lack of distrust? How can we overcome that barrier and reach a mutual understanding? How can we work together? Is this possible?
  2. How do we support our students when they become engaged in activism?
  3.   How to we approach and engage student activists, especially when we are in upper administration?
  4.  As Xenia Markowitt asked, Is It My Job to Teach the Revolution?” (2009). And what does that look like? How do we teach students how to advocate for themselves and issues that matter to them?
  5.  Eric Stoller once commented on how there are not enough radical practitioners in student affairs. Is this true? And what role does this play into the conversation? (Stoller, 2012)


IU on Strike. Twitter. Retrieved from

IU on Strike Tumblr. Retrieved from

Student Personnel Point of View (1949) Retrieved from

Lare, J.C. (October 16, 2009). Is it my job to teach the revolution? Jenny c. lares. Retrieved from -- NOTE: If you do not have access to Markowitt's article on The Chronicle, you can read it for free via this blog.
Markowitt, X. (October 11, 2009). Is it my job to teach the revolution? The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from

Stoller, E. (January 16, 2012). Where are all the radical practicioners? Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from

Fater T. & Stefanski M. (April 10, 2013). IU on Strike outlines demands. IDS. Retrieved from


  1. Hi, I appreciate your comments and your attention to democratic political action--It is so important to consider that this action itself is an education, the type of education that can only make our democracy, and our "imagined community" at IU, stronger. As a fellow graduate student in a very different field than yours, one that was born from the very type of activism you are seeing here with IU on Strike, I absolutely see the fundamental efficacy of this work, this particular type of collective political action. In fact, my field of study would not exist without the fact that students demanded it. And, since you mentioned the BGSU Women's Center as a place where you did activism--I wonder, what do students do about a university like ours, IU, which has *no* Women's Center? ...To me, the issues that folks are striking for is inherent in that very problematic itself. Working within the system can be very effective--and that is a great thing to do, but we also must have the infrastructure available to us to do that work. So when the strikers demand that the university commit to issues of diversity, must they also brainstorm the *means*? That, I would assert, is where student affairs professionals can join in conversations with students/strikers to figure out how to make demands "happen" and manifest, however that may look. For me, that would look like: funding a Women's & Gender Resource Center, creating a Black Cultural Center, and empowering our current cultural centers to actually do great programming. Also, starting a tenure-faculty diversity initiative to hire diverse faculty in mentorship "clusters," and also showing commitment to diversity by putting real resources into marginalized programs on campus, such as Latino studies. There are so many ways that Admin/Student Affairs could "see the ideas" behind the tactics and demands and make those ideas into reality.

    Thank you for a great post that can get various, and important, conversations started!

  2. Hi Heather,

    Thank you for taking the time to comment. I apologize for the tardy reply - I forgot to set up my email notifications for comments.

    Thanks for bringing up your perspective. Your absolutely right - thanks to activism we have academic programs in women's studies/gender studies and ethnic studies. Ironically, my field benefited greatly from the student activism movement of the 1960s - prior, student affairs officers were not great in number but with the growing realization that institutions of higher education needed staff to work with the students and address issues, more SA folks began to get hired.

    I do believe that it is a responsibility of activists to not only draw attention to an issue but also deliver methods of achieving the aimed goals. With that, I think it is the responsibility of student affairs professionals and higher education administrators to work with the students to further the methods and action plans into achieving a satisfactory goal.

    Thank you for bringing up some of the needs on IU's campus. I was fortunate at BGSU to have the Women's Center and still cannot believe that IU does not have a Women's & Gender Resource Center. Further, I still remember how excited I was when I came to campus last year to interview for my program and saw the brochures for the cultural centers...but after being here I've begun to realize that the funding is not appropriate in regards to IU's mission of a diverse community (see also: the international center being closed). Funding is a difficult issue and there are never enough dollars, nor do I presume to understand IU's budget. I do, however, understand that there is a lack of funding support and that is an issue.

    Again, thank you for engaging in the conversation! Thank you for the work you're doing on campus.