Student activism can foster critical engagement


The Appalachian Online

Kevin Griffin

Editor’s note: This is a second in two-part series on the impact of race and student activism.

Last semester this campus saw a much more prominent level of student activism than I have seen in my nearly three years at Appalachian State University. Students and some faculty spoke out about becoming involved in causes as diverse as voting rights, sexual assault, the direction of the university and race relations.

Seeing such passion for these issues was as refreshing as it is important. Student activism provides both personal and institutional benefits. The personal benefits are of course the feeling and sense of accomplishment that comes with working for something that matters. Today more than ever, however, the institutional values are what matter most.

Last November, faculty members and students held a forum called “Whose University is This?” which touched a number of the signs of corporate culture, including the growth of administrative bloat and the idea of students as consumers, according to the Nov. 17 edition of The Appalachian. Treating students as consumers is one aspect of shifting the university from its traditional functions of education and research at universities to a model that revolves around economics.

Education scholar Henry Giroux wrote in an essay for in 2012 that stated many universities “are now committed almost exclusively to economic goals, such as preparing students for the workforce.”

We can see this sort of mentality at work in North Carolina, with Gov. McCrory frequently promoting job-oriented education and disparaging the liberal arts.

Of course universities have an economic role, but many aspects of higher education are lost when this becomes the primary function of the university. A major part of education is equipping students engage critically with the world. The narrow focus on the economic aspects of education diminishes this element of personal fulfillment and societal advance.

Student activism provides an outlet for students to combat this paradigm. Though it is not part of the curriculum, activism allows students to be autonomous and critically interact with the world in meaningful ways. Also, student activism can work to change the aspects of the university that are inhibiting that intellectual potential.

For those reasons, I hope the student activism we’ve seen continues forward.

Griffin, a junior journalism major from Madison, is an opinion writer.

STORY: Kevin Griffin, Opinion Writer