A History of Student Activism and Protests on Social Issues





By Michael Turner

The student’s voice is one of the loudest during many centuries. The youth is active in the social sense and always strives to make the world a better place for living. Fighting gender, racial, religious, and age discrimination, political, environmental, economic, or social inequality, students influenced and changed the world for the better over the decades. Activism has always been a method of the broad masses to consolidate peace and achieve justice. In this article, you will learn more about the history of social activism and protests on social issues.

The Definition of Student’s Activism
The so-called campus activism is determined as a student's activity aimed to cause political, environmental, economic, or social changes. Such movements vary depending on the subject, size, methods, success, and form of expression. Student activism is manifested in the shape of protests, strikes, boycotting, demonstrations, sit-ins, occupations, petitions, online activity, and civil disobedience.

The Beginning of Student Protests on College Campuses
Starting from the XIII century, the students in Paris and Bologna launched actions to pay attention to the “town and gown” problems between the non-academic population and the university community. During two years, a lot of innocent students lost their lives in the riot with Church and secular leaders. It caused a strike that led to the number of reforms at Medieval University. The situation with ‘town and grown’ repeated at Oxford in 1209 and caused a student's protest. Later, in 1638, the students of Harvard College struck against the practice of beating as a form of disciplinary punishment of Nathaniel Eaton.

Read about social issues
The main problems that wake up the student’s movements lie inside the society. The main drivers of the protests on campuses and universities are brave people who are ready to overcome social issues. It is important to study the history of social activism and it helps us to understand why and for what students fought. With essay examples on social issues in the world, we can see the existing problems in the modern world and find solutions accordingly. Students’ protests throughout many years revealed the problems that the society was afraid to discuss and brought them to the public.

The Turning Point in Student Activism in the 1960s
Throughout history, we can see that most of the colleges and universities over the USA enrolled only white male students which reveals two social issues at the same time — gender and racial discrimination. The students confronted the system and made an effort to increase the campus diversity to protect the members of society from intolerance. At the end of the 1950s, the group ‘Concerned Student’ at the University of Missouri reached the resignation of President Tim Wolf and increment of the number of black students and teachers. Investigations in the 1960s confirmed that 1 in 5 students faced racial discrimination on the campus. The anti-racism activists in 1969 pressured the administration to set up African American studies department.

Anti-Wars Protests
The XX century is characterized by the huge number of wars and conflicts that influenced the whole world and gave rise to the peace movements involving the college organizations engaged in changing the political climate. The students’ anti-war ideology with the “No more war” slogan has been consolidated during the most famous demonstrations against the conflicts — Vietnam War Protests in 1966-1969. The college students began to demonstrate their opposition to the Vietnam War. Оrganization that spread the strike over the nation is called Students for a Democratic Society and was launched based on Kent State University.

Environmental Protection Protests
Another social issue that cannot be left without the attention of students is environmental protection. The Santa Barbara Oil Spill demonstration was initiated as a climate protest after the leaking of 3 million gallons of oil on the coast of Santa Barbara. The First Earth Day in 1970 was held to increase public awareness of the environmental problems and began as an opposition to chemical warfare after the Vietnam War. The Battle of Seattle in 1999 started off to achieve environmental justice. Global Strikes in 2019 mobilized a lot of students to demand action on climate change.

Student Movements in 2020 and Its Influence on Education
Student activism has a long history that is still continuing as the number of social issues is constantly increasing. The COVID-19 pandemic left a trail on our lives and placed students in difficult situations. Since colleges closed their campuses and everything went into the virtual world, students had to demand tuition refunds and refused to pay for the spring semester to push the educational institutions to reduce the tuition rates taking into consideration the situation.


A lot of students who want to change their lives and the world for the better express their desire in the form of activism. Many student movements cover social issues are based on strong confidence in victory. The long history of activism on the college or university level shows that not all student campaigns were successful, but attracted the attention of the world to a number of issues. The impact of such demonstrations on society cannot be ignored as the young generation always fight for equal rights and freedoms without any kind of discrimination in order to secure the future for our planet. The peaceful protests and petitions catch the eye of the web and social media and spread the ideology of students to strive to improve society. As history shows, students put their lives on the line to be heard.

Author’s Bio: Michael Turner is a social activist that fights for social justice and equality. He has a Master's degree in Political Science and in his free time, gives lectures for students at college. Also, Michael writes articles for his blog and different online resources.