University News

Profs see waning student activism

Contributing Writer
Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Clarification appended.

Fifty-seven percent of faculty members think student activism is lower or much lower today than when they attended college, according to a faculty poll conducted by The Herald this fall. Only about 15 percent indicated activism is higher or much higher. Of faculty who have worked at Brown for more than 20 years, 82.6 percent reported student activism is lower or much lower.

The faculty poll was conducted online from Sept. 25 to Oct. 8 and has a 6.6 percent margin of error with 95 percent confidence.

Robert Self, associate professor of history and instructor of HIST 1760: “Political Movements in Twentieth-Century America,” said he is not sure there has been a drop in student activism but would attribute such a decline to the lack of a “unifying issue” like the civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1960s and 1970s. But he said it is difficult to establish if activism has decreased or increased without a set time period for comparison.

In contrast, Vazira Zamindar, associate professor of history, said she is impressed with the level of student activism on campus. In comparison to the lack of activism of her own classmates in college, Zamindar lauds her students’ “concern for the world” and cited the 2008 presidential election as an example of high student energy. She called for everyone to be more engaged and increase visible protests as has been done in countries like France, India and Brazil. Students should be innovative in addressing the “growing inequalities in the world” in years to come, she said.

Beth Caldwell ’12, a member of the Student Labor Alliance and Providence Fair Food, said she thinks there has been a general decline in student activism. It is frustrating that more students and faculty are not activists, she said, but the decline can be deceptive because there are more issues now for students to support.

Alejo Stark ’13, a member of the Brown Immigrant Rights Coalition, said the group is less active than it was last year, which Stark said could be a result of BIRC not pursuing specific legislation this year. Last year, the group lobbied for the Dream Act, which Stark said inspired many students actively participate in rallies. College Hill is not fully exposed to race and class issues prevalent elsewhere, he said.


Online questionnaires were sent to personal accounts of 902 faculty Sept. 25 and advertised on the faculty Morning Mail Sept. 27, Oct. 4 and Oct. 7. The poll closed Oct. 8. Only faculty that “teach, advise or interact with undergraduate students” were invited to respond, and 174 responses were recorded. The poll has a 6.6 percent margin of error with 95 percent confidence.

Find results of previous polls at

A previous version of this article stated that there were fewer members of the Brown Immigrant Rights Coalition this year than last year. The group is less active, but does not have fewer members.

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