Is Student Activism a Thing at Centre?

by Duffy Oakley

All across the country this year, college campuses have been rife with protests, strikes, walk-outs and other student mobilizations. But you wouldn’t get that impression from looking at Centre. Aside from the occasional (and controversy-generating) sidewalk chalk, there has been relatively little visible activism on campus this year. By all appearances, Centre is a desert in a sea of student protest and activism.

This wasn’t always the case. This May marks six years since the 2018 Centre sit-in, the first of its kind in the college’s history. After years of dialogue on racial justice and months of organizing for a more inclusive campus community, Black student leaders organized a sit-in at Old Centre, with over a hundred students occupying the college’s most iconic and historic building for a total of three days. By disrupting Centre’s usual business, the students were able to force the administration to meet with them and listen to their demands, which spanned across a wide array of campus life, and involved reforms throughout many of the college’s offices. Long-lasting impacts from the sit-in include the establishment of a permanent Office of Diversity and Inclusion with a team of full-time employees as well as a physical multicultural space on campus (the Intercultural Suite).

Two years later, during the worldwide protests for racial justice in 2020, Centre students began  organizing to remove the Confederate statue that had stood for over a century in the green space across from Pearl Hall, between Centre and The Presbyterian Church of Danville. After over a year of activism and fundraising for the statue’s removal, this effort finally paid off in December 2021 when the statue was permanently removed from campus.

Even now, although perhaps less visibly than before, students continue carrying on this tradition of student organizing and activism. Over the past year, Centre students have organized for higher work-study wages, increased campus accessibility, protecting diversity, equity and inclusion and many more issues. Although Centre is often not considered to be an activist campus, and although most students here now have little knowledge of either the 2018 sit-in or the 2021 statue removal, Centre does have an important legacy of students organizing for structural change. If we want our campus and our community to continue improving, we must recognize and continue this legacy of student activism into the future.

Because of the transient nature of college campuses–we come here with usually very little background or engagement with the campus community, and then leave after four years–we often fail to acknowledge either the existing groundwork that has been laid by former students or the future work that will be picked up by later students after we graduate. We also often perceive the problems and challenges that we face not only on campus but in our society in general as individual problems specific to ourselves or as simply too complex for one person to overcome. However, these systemic, structural issues can be solved through building a movement of people who are also affected by these, as evidenced by the past.

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