Campus activists need to learn from past mistakes
Protesting for important causes is practically a rite of passage for college students, and UH is no exception. In past years, students have protested over everything from LGBTQ+ rights to abortion access. But in many cases, these movements lack the intensity needed to bring about lasting change.
That’s not to say that these movements don’t have an impact, however. Some protests, like the rallies held after the two tragic suicides that took place at Agnes Arnold Hall, attracted hundreds of students and received coverage from multiple major media outlets.
But despite the initially impressive turnout, the push for more mental health support on campus seems to have completely stalled just a few months later.
The organizers promised a broader movement including more protests, but lack of interest and somewhat unclear demands seem to have brought the fight to a screeching halt. The most the university managed in response was to put up fencing around Agnes Arnold and make some vague structural adjustments.
It can be easy to pin the issue here on lack of specific demands, but even when students have complete clarity in what they’re asking for, results are not guaranteed. For example, consider the “UH Divest” movement, which asked the university to stop investing in companies that manufacture weapons.
After an impressive social media campaign, multiple rallies and a push for the Student Government Association to discuss the issue, the organizers proudly declared a victory. They lauded the movement as an unprecedented success, but unfortunately, their “victory” was arguably meaningless in the long term.
While the organizers were able to convince student government to vote against sending money to arms manufacturers, this did next to nothing in convincing the University administration to actually adjust where the school’s money went to.
SGA resolutions are just that, after all: resolutions. SGA brought the issue before administration and the administration denied it, but the momentum died as if there had been some great victory achieved.
Again, the accomplishments of these organizers is impressive and should be recognized, but if students don’t learn from past mistakes they’re likely to repeat them. Take for example the recent “Free UH” movement that’s formed to protest the closure of the LGBTQ+ Resource Center, among other issues.
Despite a significant leafleting and social media campaign, the proposed “walkout” garnered no more than a few dozen attendees. Supposedly, a large number of students care about LGBTQ+ rights, graduate student pay and the other issues the movement rallied around. So why did so few show up?
For a start, timeliness could be a factor. These protests took place over a month after the LGBTQ+ Resource Center closed, meaning that it was likely not in the forefront of most students’ minds. Media was also less likely to be interested in covering an issue that few readers would be interested in.
But more than anything else, momentum matters when it comes to protest movements. All of these past movements stalled out because students stopped paying attention or organizers simply stopped organizing. The only real way to win lasting change is to continuously place pressure on campus administration.
While the “Free UH” movement has some solid, concrete goals, they should be wary of making the same mistakes their predecessors did. A renewed push surrounding specific, newsworthy goals, combined with action that really pushes administration to take notice is the only path forward.
It only takes a spark to get a fire started, after all. But if you want to keep the fire going, you have to keep turning up the heat.
Malachi Key is a Journalism senior who can be reached at [email protected].