Student activism is needed to end oppression and create change at Ursinus and across the U.S.
America does not grant freedom to all who reside in its land. We do not live in a post-racial society. “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander tells us that black and Hispanic peoples are incarcerated at rates higher than white people, although they sell and use drugs at the same rates. Islam is a religion of peace. The LGBTQA+ community will not be invisible for your comfort and are deserving of the same rights as you. Gender roles are a means of societal control. Women are not property: Their bodies are not up for political debate.
Did any of these statements make you uncomfortable? Good. It is necessary to examine the criticisms of a country from the people who live in a constant state of oppression. What is oppression, you ask? Oppression is what makes young black girls and boys hate their skin. Oppression is a rapist serving only a few months in prison, and still call it [the sentence] justice. Oppression is mass murder occurring at a gay bar and people believing it is God’s doing. Oppression is calling a religion you know nothing about terrorism. It is hateful hegemony written in the foundations of this country. Oppression is the evil that persists in America to protect the walls of a white supremacist patriarchy, to protect the precious privilege of white, cisgender, heterosexual males.
These values that the American flag upholds are some of the highest forms of injustice. If being American means choosing to worship the American flags’ symbol of “freedom” and ignoring the bodies and the corruption it stands on, then consider me un-American. However, though we are but measly college students, you and I have the capability to devise an America that stands for honest freedom. This is what is called student activism; it is the means to the end of such cruelty. It is crucial for us not to fear, but become acquainted with words such as “activism,” “radical,” and “change.”
Back in spring 2016, Sankofa Umoja Nia, Ursinus’ black student union, organized a protest to show solidarity for the black football players at the University of Missouri. We demanded that the term “diversity” at Ursinus not continue to be an empty word.
At this point in time, diversity just means tolerance. It needs to be redefined as truly understanding the meaning of each other’s experiences. This way, we could foster an Ursinus community full of critical thinkers, who examine the world through honest eyes.
Susana Zelaya, a sophomore, recalled her thoughts about activism and the protest last year. “Student activism should get more recognition from the faculty, the staff, and the president. It takes a lot of work to organize even just one letter or meeting. It can be so easy to go on Facebook or Twitter and post your opinion, but to actually take initiative and pioneer your ideas and put them forth? That is very unique, and not many people do that. That is one thing that not just this campus, but America, needs. More people should not just say their ideas and opinions, but put them into action.”
I also spoke with senior Kelly Johnson about her opinions. “In the US, activist work is seen as something radical that people do because they are ‘pissed off’, or uninformed. They [activists] just want to make noise. But I really think that activism is the only way we can be truly present in what is going on around us. The surge of activism on the Ursinus campus reflects the world that is around us.”
Johnson later spoke of activism on campus. “I do think that the work of student activists on campus is really commendable, and is attempting to reach out and show what students should really be concerned about. I am really hoping to see a surge of it in this upcoming election because this election is really about our values. Martin Luther King said that every man of humane conviction must find something he must protest, but we all must protest. Activism is being active, that is a key part of it. We need to redefine what activism is and what active citizenship is.”
You need to decide what your activism will look like. Whether you stand for the black community, the environment, the laborers, etc., work needs to be done. As moral agents, we must continue the work in our lives at Ursinus, and in the world. It can only be done if we commit ourselves to living love. To live love is to take action and to take action is to bring about the greater good for all. Choose the Ursinus you wish to be a part of. Choose the America you wish to be a part of.