OPINION: Student-Led Protests Can’t Always Be Comfortable

By only taking part in school-sanctioned protests that are designed to be non-disruptive, students miss the opportunity to push for real change.

5 mins read

This story is syndicated from The Rubicon, the newspaper of St. Paul Academy and Summit School in Saint Paul, MN. The original version of the story ran here.

Gun law reform, voting rights, and fair wages: these, along with countless other societal changes, were brought about by the power of protesting. Evidence of the success of protesting is abundant in history. Just 11 days after the murder of George Floyd, the Minneapolis police department agreed to ban the use of chokeholds and neck restraints in their department. This policy reform came after mass demonstrations throughout Minnesota, then the world, brought about by persistent and courageous protesters.

Art credit: Dominique Greene

So why does it seem that the very principle of protesting can be forgotten? The reason protests are effective is because they draw attention and disrupt the natural flow of systems. Whether this is done legally or illegally, the goal is to spark interest in a cause and build awareness. This means that protesters often face backlash, whether from their school, the institution or the law.

However, the risk of discipline or prosecution is accounted for and deemed insignificant in comparison to the importance of the causes of these demonstrations. According to the Associated Press, more than 2,800 protesters have been arrested across 50 campuses since April 18 at pro-Palestinan and anti-war demonstrations. People who have everything to lose — education, financial support, reputation — still show up for the causes important to them because of what they believe is the necessity and effectiveness of protest.

In recent times, this sentiment doesn’t seem to be present around the Randolph Campus the way it used to be. Throughout the past two years, no significant protests have been organized by students or participated in by the community as a group. Prior to 2022, students were more involved. Prevention of Line 3, protection of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)BLM and more were all causes students here demonstrated for.

In some cases, people may attribute the lack of demonstrations to a lack of administrative support. The Upper School Handbook allows on-campus planned protests and walkout participation with the permission of a parent or guardian. The handbook highlights that each individual student is responsible for learning what was missed in class and that it’s not the teacher’s responsibility to aid them in making up for the absence. The policy prevents the student from participating in after-school activities that day.

Art credit: Annika Kim

Another deterrent to protest is what might be given up: missing classes, absences or detention. For others, the primary deterrent may be transportation, as protests are organized all across the Twin Cities.

There can be a multitude of reasons to refrain from protesting, but at the end of the day, what’s most important is personal values and morals. Students have to be willing to fight for the beliefs they hold most dear. It is a disservice to stay silent on topics that align with aspects of one’s identity.

Another reason why school-enforced restrictions should not prevent student-designed events or organized departure from school to protest is that if they only happen when the school allows and is complacent, it can prevent real change due to the convenience of the protests. The goal of protests is to breed curiosity and demonstrate significance; when people are able to go about their lives without any real disruption, public or personal, the effect is minimized.

The power and voice of each and every student should not be underestimated.

To get involved and join in a protest, discuss with community members in and out of school. Look into social media pages and websites to find more information on the causes you want to take a stand for and the scheduling of protests. Collaboration within affinity groups, student interest groups or clubs can also be a great way to get involved.

Protesting has been (and always will be) power wielded by the public as a catalyst for change. Protesting is a tool for people to shape the world they live in, as well as a demonstration of solidarity and community. It is important that we recognize the way protesting has shaped our world and take our place alongside this generation of activists.

Latest from Featured Posts