Student groups encourage political engagement on campus and aim to hold school administration accountable.
By Kiera O’Hara-Heinz
Over the past eight months, Saint Mary’s has seen numerous displays of student activism and political engagement. As a school, we witnessed climate change demonstrations, theater performances, student speeches at open mics, opinions aired on KSMC, campaigns to encourage voter registration, students tabling for their political beliefs, and posters and flyers criticizing school administration and advocating for causes. For many, protests and activism are integral parts of the college experience.
Senior Politics major Grace Clinton has been involved with the group Climate Action SMC, since its inception at the beginning of this school year. She describes the group as a campus climate activism group focused on bringing about sustainable change at Saint Mary’s, and says that during their first year in existence they have focused their efforts on urging Saint Mary’s to divest their shares in fossil fuels.
Sophomore History major Thomas Weldele, also involved with the group Climate Action SMC, describes some of the events the group planned and carried out this school year. He says that the efforts of the group can be seen in the divestment proposal they prepared for President Richard Plumb and the Board of Trustees, the divestment petition that they made and distributed, as well as the events they planned.
Some of these events, like the Climate Action Theater event that took place last semester, were authorized events organized through cooperation with several different groups on campus. Others like the divestment day protest that took place on February 17th and included large banners strung across buildings on campus, were more of a grassroots student effort.
Weldele says that student activism is important because it is critical in order to make change.
“Students have a frontline view of what needs to be changed on campus and have the motivation to keep at it, even when things do not seem like they are going quickly,” Weldele said.
Clinton expressed a similar view saying that student activism is important at SMC because it has the potential to bring about long-lasting change. She notes that some spots on campus that make Saint Mary’s the inclusive and progressive college we enjoy today, like the Intercultural Center and the Center for Women and Gender Equity, were created in part by student activism.
Although student activism has been very influential in the history and climate of the college, it has not been without pushback or difficulty. Clinton says that this year her group has faced an unfortunate lack of response from the administration.
“Whether they are taking two months to respond to emails, canceling on us multiple times in a row, or giving us long-winded patronizing lectures, it does not seem like our initiatives are being taken seriously,” Clinton says. “This has been slightly disheartening given the grave and time-sensitive nature of the climate crisis. Our demands have not been unreasonable, yet the administration seems adamant about running out the clock on us.”
Other recent displays of student activism have been in the form of the Instagram page @SMCSurvivors, which describes itself as an anonymous group of Saint Mary’s students who are survivors of sexual assault. Over the past three days, the group has hung signs reading messages like “SMC PROTECTS RAPISTS”, “BELIEVE SURVIVORS”, and “DO BETTER”, and posted anonymous student testimonials of sexual assault and harassment taking place at SMC.
The group has got the attention of Vice Provost Anthony Garrison who emailed the SMC community saying “As the Title IX Coordinator, I want to thank our students for holding us accountable and take this opportunity to share updates on what we are doing to build a culture rooted in respect for each other and reaffirm our commitment to prevent and respond to incidents of sexual misconduct.”
Clinton says that this Instagram page and the conversations it is instigating on campus are true examples of student activism.
“Right now we are seeing student activism in action with the important work being done by the anonymous group SMC Survivors who are working to bring attention to Saint Mary's pernicious and pervasive assault culture,” Clinton said.
We at The Collegian, view our work as a form of activism and hope that our articles covering school events and policies, and investigating issues in our community, help keep students engaged and informed on matters that affect them. We encourage all members of the Saint Mary’s community to come to us with any and all stories they think should be covered or investigated by The Collegian.
Ryan Ford '23,