Engaging Contemporary Issues and Student Activism
Student protests and student leadership in broader activist organizations (such as #BlackLivesMatter or the global climate movement) are gaining greater public attention in recent years. Angus Johnston, history professor at the City University of New York, found that more than 160 student protests took place in the United States during the fall 2014 semester1. (More information about the content and specifics of those student protests are available on his blog). How college administrators, student affairs professionals, faculty and student leaders respond to student activism can greatly impact students ability to meaningfully engage with their broader social context.
Dr. Jeffrey Coleman, director of the Multicultural Center, had the opportunity to discuss the center’s approach to social activism on campus during the Emory Student Affairs Institute on Crisis Leadership this summer (June 8-9). The institute focused on the primary components of crisis management and leadership during different kinds of institutional crises, including student activism. When asked to describe the Multicultural Center’s approach to contemporary issues, student activism and social justice, Dr. Coleman highlighted the center’s multi-level approach, saying
The Multicultural Center supports the academic mission of the university to “focus on solving complex issues ranging from the most fundamental questions of the universe to the most challenging issues of our day” through a three-fold approach to programs: offer opportunities for student to process and discuss contemporary issues, encourage critical reflection prior to incidents of injustice and offer a culture of care that equips students to respond.
~ Dr. Jeffrey Coleman
This three-pronged approach to engaging contemporary issues and social activism is reflected in the Multicultural Center’s upcoming programming. First, signature programs in the Multicultural Center are designed to respond to contemporary concerns. During the summer semester, two programs were designed to address questions and concerns related to the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida. Throughout the fall semester, the Multicultural Center will be offering programming related to the election with a particular focus on the presidential and vice-presidential debates. Additionally, the Multicultural Center hosts a Teach the Dean event every semester related to a pressing social trend within colleges and universities. The focus this fall will be on student activism and social media. Second, ongoing programs, such as Pop Talks (every Wednesday from 12:15 – 2 p.m. in the Multicultural Center Lounge), offer students the opportunity to discuss their responses to contemporary issues, pop culture and their lived experiences. Finally, the Multicultural Center offers a wide variety of other programs, services and trainings that equip students to respond to difficult situations that range from aggressive free speech tactics during Plaza to cultural competency skills or just a place to hang out!
1Johnston, A. Student activism blog. Retrieved from http://studentactivism.net/