Be active, be vocal

Students should engage with the community through activism.

Trent M. Kays

College is often considered a time when students discover the dreams, ambitions and goals that will drive their lives. The coursework they take is supposed to complement those dreams and ensure they can succeed when presented with life-altering situations. However, traditional courses are generally not designed or equipped to teach and inspire students to activism. As a result, itâÄôs easy to feel insulated as a college student because you arenâÄôt always driven to connect with the outside community.

The University becomes your whole life and campus-life only further encourages it. At the University of Minnesota, we have ready access to food, entertainment, friends, bars and study locations. The University is a city within a city. ItâÄôs amazing, but it does lead us to ignore parts of the world outside campus, parts we should be active in.

One way to connect with something outside campus and greater than us is through activism. For many, life after the University requires adjustment. It requires us to reevaluate our schedules, choices and living circumstances. But if while in college we find ways to actively connect with the world outside the campus, then weâÄôll be better prepared for life after college.

Even though traditional coursework canâÄôt teach us to be activists, we can use what weâÄôve learned to enhance our innate activist spirits. Part of the goal of education is to teach us to think critically about situations. It is through this critical thinking that we can become active in our communities and for causes that we feel are just. We are all activists in one way or another, and we need to learn to grab that spirit and vocalize it.

How are we already activists? We are activists in that we often object to things we donâÄôt like or feel are unjust. We often voice our objections to friends or coworkers. We voice them to our teachers and on our blogs. Yet, many never take it further than that. They stop at the point of action when action might be exactly what is needed.

Activism is action informed by discussion. In college, we develop the ability to engage in critical discussion where we draw out conclusions and form strategies for further discussions. However, what is discussion without action? ItâÄôs nothing but discussion for discussionâÄôs sake. While that certainly has its place, there must be a time when we call on that discussion as we move forward to act on something.

Putting those discussions into action can be difficult. This is one area where college leaves us listless. We are given the tools to vocalize our objections, but we are often left to figure out how to put those discussions into action on our own. This is unfortunate because that is often the time when our objections can do the most good. Despite this lack of activism education, it is not difficult to connect our objections with actions.

Activism takes many forms. Not every issue calls for a large-scale protests. Some issues are small and affect our local community, while some issues are large and affect our greater society. ItâÄôs important to distinguish between the former and the latter, and our education has left us equipped with crucial critical thinking skills that allow us to separate local community issues from greater societal ones. As with all situations, itâÄôs important to carefully pick the issues you want to pursue.

Activism requires critical awareness, which we develop through our critical thinking skills. We should always ask if the time is right for an active approach to an injustice, or how our community will benefit from an active approach. What we will gain and lose should be questions perpetually present in our minds. ItâÄôs important to be active and vocal, but itâÄôs equally important to be so responsibly.

Students should be passionate about issues that affect them. They need to identify what they feel to be unjust and work to ferret out a solution. The university does not exist in a vacuum. It exists in relation to and part of our society. When we leave the confines of the university, weâÄôll discover the world is a chaotic and unjust place. It is fraught with lies, half-truths and deception, so we should draw on the considerable skills we acquire in college to enact change.

Change is not easy, and activism is not easy. They both require hard work, dedication and persistence. Students can be vocal about issues affecting them, but they often forgo the active portion of activism.

In order to effect change, we must be change agents. We must be active participants in our communities, in our society and in our democracy. ItâÄôs important to shout from the rooftops, but if we donâÄôt follow up that shouting with action, then what have we accomplished?

Activism is a course in the classroom that is the world. The only way to truly understand it is to enact it. We should all apply the critical skills we learn in our classrooms to the world outside the campus. We should write letters, challenge politicians, meet with community organizations, protest injustices and march against inequality. We should all form groups on issues affecting us, locate who is influential on or driving the issue and challenge that influence. We should all start an action group or join a protest on issues we care about. By being active and connecting with our community, we can effect change and emphasize our power.

Above all else, we must be vocal, we must be active, and we must never stop fighting for what we believe in.