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College Student Activism, or How to "Disguise Subversive Action like a Sugar-Coated Pill" (October 2017): Conclusion

By Robert V. Labaree


As Free Speech Movement leader Mario Savio declared from the steps of Sproul Hall at the University of California, Berkeley, college students should never be afraid to put their “bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus” of what he characterized as “the machine” in order to fight for social justice and preserve freedom of expression and educational self-determination. Research indicates that assessing the effectiveness of college-student protest movements depends largely on contextualizing definitions of success and failure and comprehending the shades of meaning-making that give rise to, and result from, these conditions. The impact of a particular movement depends largely on participants’ abilities to construct bridges of understanding and support among stakeholder groups and thereby transform local protests into a broad social movement, and from there into meaningful policy outcomes that foster lasting change. Recent research also indicates that the internet, mobile communication technologies, and social media have had a profound impact on initiating, projecting, and sustaining contemporary student protest movements as well as nourishing the forces of resistance that inevitably arise in opposition. These phenomena have received considerable scholarly attention in relation to student-led movements in the Middle East, Europe, and other regions of the world. However, comprehensive investigations of technology’s relationship to college student activism in the US is relatively sparse. Nevertheless, recently published research in scholarly journals and books provides ample evidence that motivated college student activists who place themselves onto the gears of society and, in particular, direct their efforts to turning the gears of higher education will continue to shape the larger contours of US society. The prosperity of all generations depends on it.