Maia Honl – Opinion Columnist
The first time I saw a protest in person, I was in high school. It was the first days of spring, when the 65 degree weather felt like summer to our winter-worn bodies. Though our school had three floors, we were cramped in common areas and could feel the additional heat of people no matter where we were. Summer clothes were being brought out of hibernation, and with it came teachers adhering to the modesty-based dress code.
The dress codes in my school’s district had long been the ire of many girls, with unnecessary rules and regulations that controlled our wardrobe with a ruling fist. They told us that our school was a job, and that wearing anything not appropriate for work could warrant us being sent home. But how can you be expected to be completely covered when it’s a hot day out? This was the question a student asked after she was dress-coded for wearing a crop top that rested right above her belly button. Her slightly showing her midriff caused her to get in trouble while the athletic guys got away with wearing muscle shirts that exposed the entire sides of their torso.
Later in the day, she was harassed by a male student due to her shirt, and when she turned to a teacher for help, they replied by saying “boys will be boys.” Word about this spread very quickly throughout the school, and people were upset. A small group of girls who were close with the girl who was harassed decided to stage a demonstration. During the morning when everyone was arriving, the group arrived wearing crop tops and sat in a large circle, blocking off a large portion of the main staircase. It made unknowing students grumble, but they did the first thing needed to have a successful protest: they got everyone’s attention. They sat there for thirty minutes before the office agreed to talk to them. Our rural school didn’t do much to change their unfair system, but the protest made me realize something. It made me realize that you don’t have to be one of the women or civil rights leaders we read about in history class to make a difference, anyone can do it.
“[Student Protesting] allows students to be in a community that can help turn stress and anger into determination and action,” Junior Lib Markham, a member of the activism group The Radicals, said.
Student protests have played a vital role in history, and have been happening for centuries.
“College students in the U.S. and England before the U.S. Civil War were important agitators against slavery and for Black equality as part of the era’s abolitionist movement. Their voices were important in keeping abolitionism and civil rights before the Anglo-American public,” History Professor Greg Kaster said.
This example and others shows that the history of these protests are important since they tell us how to be successful in implementing change. Student protest has been the backbone of many fundamental changes, such as the 26th amendment which gives 18-year-olds the right to vote. Protesting at Gustavus has also shown success, with Black students staging a successful petition back in 1968 to have the school’s first African-American history course. If these examples of protest show anything, it’s that change won’t happen unless you make the people in charge hear you.
“We’re just as important, if not more than, the old people representing us in office… We need to fight to change the horrible things that older generations created,” Sophomore Vincent Kenobbie, another member of The Radicals, said.
Protests today have taken on a new ferocity, with many concerns being accentuated during the times of COVID and technology. Issues such as gun control, police brutality, homophobic and transphobic hate crimes, misogynistic judges and sexual harassment, all of these are at the forefront of a lot of the protests we see in our society. College students are taking action against those in leadership positions when it comes to these issues, and that’s mainly because we live with this reality everyday. We grew up in a post-Columbine, post-9/11, post-Sandy Hook world that raised us to be cautious and fearful.
But when we see repeated instances of school shootings, sexual assaulters being let off, officers not being punished for police brutality, we don’t see progress. We don’t see change, and we are getting sick of having to push for it every time something bad happens. I’m tired of being scared whenever I hear a loud noise on campus, I’m tired of having to learn self defense just to feel safe walking anywhere, and I know I’m not the only one.
“Protesting is one of the few ways we can actually get the administration to take notice of what we want to change and hold space for the frustrations we have,” Senior Signe Jeremiason, member of The Radicals, said.
I’ve heard people say that protests have taken it too far, that peaceful protests are the key to establishing a space where those in power can speak with those who are showing their concerns. But I don’t think those people understand that if we were to only have peaceful protests, nothing would change. By staying within the guidelines that those in power have for protests, you aren’t giving them any reason to pay attention to you. They won’t listen to silence, for there is no power in it. So yes, protests are going to keep happening, and will continue as long as there is injustice in this world. We are tired of being tired.