Previous Page  24 / 32 Next Page
Show Menu
Previous Page 24 / 32 Next Page
Page Background







, S




students’ ability to function. The Office of Civil Rights opens cases

as they arise, and clear the institution when they resolve all of the

cases.We found accounts of student protests around the investigation

of and responses to sexual assault at most of these universities except

Washington and Lee.

Protest action helped to bring about reforms. To offer an

alternative to university adjudication of sexual assault, the state of

Virginia is exploring the establishment of a regional investigative

agency that would handle campus cases. George Mason established

a Task Force on Sexual Assault and Interpersonal Violence in 2014,

which resulted in several reforms to the process, including the hiring

of a full-time Title IX Coordinator. The University of Richmond

plans to create a Center for Sexual Assault Prevention and Response

along with a full-time coordinator.

Students are forming coalitions across university campuses.

According to their Facebook page, The Virginia Student Power

Network “is a growing multi-issue grassroots network of progressive

and radical young organizers and activists from universities across

Virginia.” The University of Virginia is part of this network through

UVA Students United. Other groups who are part of the system are

theVirginia Student Environmental Coalition, Old Dominion Student

Power, and Old Dominion Democrats. Participating organizations

address issues ranging from tuition abatements to gender equity.

At the University of Virginia, President Theresa Sullivan

established a Commission on Slavery to explore the history of

slavery at the university and build legacies to the slaves who

helped build the institution. Commission institutional members

include the College of William and Mary, Georgetown University,

Hampton University, Sweet Briar College, University of the South,

Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia Military Institute

and Virginia Tech. In 2015, hundreds of students staged a sit-in

at Georgetown University near President John J. DeGioia’s office

protesting the hostile racial climate on campus. Students felt it was

the university’s ties to slavery that poisoned the atmosphere. Slaves

built Georgetown, and Jesuit priests sold 272 slaves to Maryland and

Louisiana plantations to pay off debt.

Mobilizing students in the 1960s was a “ground game” utilizing

face-to-face solicitation of support, distribution of flyers, and

coordinating meetings. The tools of activists in the 21st century are

accessible technology and social media. Information is now rapidly

shared through online platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram,

and Snapchat. Helped by viral hashtag campaigns such as #icantbreathe

and #handsupdontshoot, the Black LivesMatter movement reached out

to any student that has access to the internet. Technology has changed

campus activism to allow greater connectivity and faster spread of

information. Students need only turn on their smartphone or laptop for

information on the latest developments and planned protest activities.

We will likely see more student activism in the coming years. Such

activism indicates a growing awareness of, and interest in, political

and civic life, which is healthy for democracy.

Andrea Y. Simpson is an Associate Professor of Political Science

at the University of Richmond and Rena X. Xiao is a rising


Since the 2016 presidential election, a

wave of activism is sweeping the country

and university campuses. Rather than

protesting a war or free speech, as students

did in the 1960s, today’s college students

are mobilizing around reproductive rights,

tuition costs, civil rights for minorities and

the LGBTQ community, and immigration

restrictions. Another issue is the failure of

universities to acknowledge their debt to

slaves and their complicity in that shameful

institution. So, while students in the 1960s

protested broad issues that affected their

futures, students today are concerned with

wide-scale discrimination and equality as

well as issues close to home such as tuition.

According to a nationwide study

commissioned by The Panetta Institute

for Public Policy, over half of the college

students surveyed believe that the country

is headed in the wrong direction. Almost

seven out of ten believe that America

is on the decline. Fifty-eight percent

believe that the problems facing their

generation are more national in scope than international. Findings

from the University of California Los Angeles annual Cooperative

Institutional Research Program (CIRP) Freshman Survey indicated

that interest in political and civic engagement among first-year

students in the United States is at an all-time high since the survey

began 50 years ago. An estimated one in ten incoming first-year

students is expected to participate in some form of rally or protest

during their years in college.

One of the hot-button issues in Virginia and the nation is

women’s reproductive rights—specifically the right to terminate

pregnancies. Many Virginian high schools and colleges have active

Planned Parenthood Generation Action chapters on campus. Planned

Parenthood Generation Action is a network of young activists

advocating for reproductive freedom and the right to choose. There

are currently 11 chapters across Virginian high schools and college

campuses. Each campus chapter works to mobilize members through

running events, rallies and campaigns that provide education about

sexual health and awareness.

In February 2016, students from George Mason University

confronted presidential candidate and Ohio Governor John Kasich

about signing a bill defunding Planned Parenthood in his home

state. When a pro-life group appeared on the campus of Virginia

Commonwealth University in the fall of 2016 with graphic posters

of aborted fetuses, student staged a pro-choice counter-protest. At

the University of Richmond, students, faculty, and staff turned out

for a small demonstration regarding a myriad of concerns regarding

federal funding for the environment, Planned Parenthood, and the

National Endowment for the Arts.

Tied to the issue of accessibility of women’s health issues are

university responses to incidents of sexual assault. The United

States Office for Civil Rights, (OCR), targeted the following

Virginia schools for violation of Title IX of the Civil Rights Act:

The College ofWilliam and Mary, University of Virginia, University

of Richmond, George Mason University, James Madison University,

and Washington and Lee. Title IX states that institutions may not

deny any student the ability to participate fully in educational and

other opportunities on the basis of sex. If institutions’ mishandle

sexual assault cases, then the resulting psychological trauma impairs

Student Activism in Virginia:

FromWomen’s Rights to the Debt Owed to Slaves

By Andrea Y. Simpson and Rena X. Xiao



past editions online