Re-Thinking Student Activism

 
 

In the wake of the Repeal protests, Mary Meadbh Park explores whether UCD student activism is suffering from tunnel vision.


THIS year UCD students took part in protesting for Repeal, a topical and relevant issue in Irish society today, and it quickly became one of the most talked about topics on campus. The popularity of the issue and of the protest itself seemed to show that students in UCD are still willing to be engaged in activism. This begs another question: why aren’t other issues and topics being raised more frequently in the same way on our campus? Is it because students don’t care enough or perhaps feel that college isn’t the right place for politics?

Daniel is a psychology Masters student who had been to the Repeal protest. On the topic of whether there was enough political awareness being spread on campus, he stated “not really. Some semi-political issues are topical, but not many because some of the other issues aren’t as fashionable, though they’re still relevant. Some of the activism that does go on in UCD is more about demonstrating you’re an activist instead of actually accomplishing anything”.

“Some semi-political issues are topical, but not many because some of the other issues aren’t as fashionable”

He spoke about what issues he would like to see more in the public spotlight:

“Humanitarianism would be great to see being talked about more, animal conservation would be great because I haven’t seen anything about that around. Talking about mental health budget cuts would be great, there was a response to that, but it’d be great to see more awareness being spread about it. I do think that students should be more involved in a wide variety of issues as I think that’s a reason why we’re here, university should be more than just for academia”.

However, history student, Conor Rock disagrees. He claims that a focus on many issues can blunt their impact. “The problem with UCD is that there are often too many issues being discussed and it can dampen the effectiveness of each campaign. Though the Repeal protest and the marriage equality referendum awareness campaign seemed to do well with student participation, engagement with other campaigns seems to dwindle. We seem to be very single issue orientated. It would be nice to see protests/campaigns on student fees, university fines and accommodation, as these are the things that affect a large portion of students on a daily basis”.

“Some of the activism that does go on in UCD is more about demonstrating you’re an activist instead of actually accomplishing anything”

Chris Lohey, an Arts student, brought in the long history of student engagement with contemporary issues. “Historically and culturally speaking, a lot of political and cultural advancement was made in colleges and universities in the Western world in the 1960s, from humanism in the renaissance to ideas of civil liberty and human rights. When keeping this in mind, I believe that colleges should be the place of political and cultural awareness and discourse in order to challenge political systems and to continue political development”.

Jans is a Plant Biology student. On the topic of what he’d like to see being talked about more on campus, he felt that “for me the most political awareness I gain in UCD is from the students rather than the faculty. So from that approach you only really hear what’s directly in the political eye and nothing about more far out topics, stuff that your average student wouldn’t hear much about, like environmental issues for example”.

He mentioned that more input from other faculty perspectives could help diversify discourse on campus. “I think a good approach would be more divided news from all courses, like weekly or monthly articles from every faculty and then tie that in to what’s going on in the political world, like [for] example; my degree, there [is] a lot of stuff teaching GMO growing and genetic mutation of plants to make stronger better plant foods, so where can that be tied into politics for someone who knows nothing about politics but might have an idea that could greatly impact the political world”.

“The problem with UCD is that there are often too many issues being discussed and it can dampen the effectiveness of each campaign”

In regards to whether university is a place for political awareness as well as learning, and whether we need to be talking about the outside world, Jans felt that “university is where you learn, but most of that learning is done outside of the lecture rooms. It’s about networking with other students from different courses and finding common ground that you believe in. You can recruit these people to create a new world order that is built from the students who are learning all kinds of new stuff and not by people whose only claim to the world is that their predecessors were really rich and somehow rule the world”.

It seems that on the whole, students in UCD do actually care about the big issues. If so, this presents an opportunity for spreading more political awareness and the organisation of protests on campus in the future.

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