The SMART Guide to Student Activism

Mathew Roberts graduated from Ohio University with a Bachelor of Science in Journalism and a certificate in Environmental Studies in May 2013. During his time as an undergraduate student, Mat served as a peer mentor to first-year multicultural students, a creative director for the school’s chapter of the National Student Advertising Competition, an editor for an online sustainable lifestyle magazine, and a research scholar for a consortium of student and faculty working to understand the interconnections between energy, economics, and the environment. He currently serves as an AmeriCorps member under the COMCorps program which is administered through Ohio University’s Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine’s Community Health Programs — the mission of his year of service is to help alleviate poverty in Appalachia Ohio through nutrition and health education with a focus on halting the steady increase of childhood obesity in the region. Though COMCorps memebers traditionally work in elementary schools and other local non-profits, Mat is piloting a year of service in a secondary school (grades 7-12) — so far he has created a Cooking Club, preps and decides what food goes on the school’s salad bar which is supplied through local farmers when possible, and provides health screenings and workshops for students.

Student activism can be one of the most rewarding parts of the college experience. As more young people around the country gain the opportunity to enter higher education, activism has filled the need for generational expression as students eagerly seek to define and create the world their parents have left behind. However, activism is no slice of pie; students looking to take a leap of faith for the cause need to have great patience, mindful planning, and unprecedented courage.

There are plenty of issues, domestic and abroad, to get fired up about these days: Students, more than ever, are primed to do what it takes to ensure a fair global democracy with an opportunistic global marketplace. From climate change and growing wealth inequality to global gender disparities and cybersecurity. With such a large spectrum of fallbacks to a globalized world, activism can be appear in many forms: consumer choice, protests, sit-ins, hunger and labor strikes, guerilla marketing, informative propaganda, and many other strategies to raise awareness of things to work on.

Though student activism has seen lively participation since the early 60s, the numbers are growing around the nation thanks to a vibrant boost of communication technologies and efficient community collaboration. If you’re ready to answer the call of action, buckle up, get loud and enjoy these SMART steps to successful activism and a unique addition to your college career.

Spirit – Remember to take activism seriously. For many people this is not a sport, and in rare cases activism in all of its forms becomes one’s lifelong dedication. When taken in good spirit, activism can raise your interest in worldly affairs and provide a rewarding perspective for your academic endeavors.

Money – Carry just enough cash to get the necessities and create a savings stash with other members if you are going on an extended activist trip. Listen to the directions of protest organizers and be aware of the economic possibilities of getting arrested, unexpected travel expenses, and paying for your main priority: school.

Attention – This work can carry with it heated debate and anger throughout various communities of action. If you feel too uncomfortable, get out of the situation. You can come back if you are ready. Activism is not for everyone and its best to keep you healthy and on track so you can still fulfill the mission even if you are under a different role.

Rights – Know your rights and responsibilities when your activism involves potentially getting arrested or any other risk of consequence. Understand that a certain level of activism can be in violation of the school’s code of conduct. While many test this boundary to its limit, knowing the limit before a spontaneous act of heroism is a good plan to put in place.

Time – Don’t let activism eat away at the important foundations in your life. Because this type of work does not often come with a paycheck or extra credit in the classroom, activism happens on one’s free time. Be aware that activism can disrupt relationships, require late nights and weekends, and challenge your mental capacity. More than anything, enjoy your time in the spirit of activism at all times.

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