How can campus administrators best support student activism in higher education institutions today?

This year we asked our selfs, how can we best support student activism in our college campuses? We spoke about our own values and beliefs and staying true to them when supporting our students. We brought up the topic of our roles as college administrators/faculty and how we navigate the politics of our own system.

Through readings and current events, we never really reached a final answer or the “correct” one way to support our students in activism work. One thing we did agree on is having a plan when we support our students. We realized that student activism is connected to first amendment rights in the form of free speech.

Our university president Ana Mari Cauce released a post about free speech on UW campuses and she states:

“[T]he right to free speech and expression is broad and allows for speech that is offensive and that most of us would consider disrespectful, and even sexist or racist. As a public university committed to the free exchange of ideas and free expression, we are obligated to uphold this right.” 

As we apply this statement in the lenses of student activism, it is important that we realize our role in the institution is to educate our students and make sure they become critical thinkers, especially in causes they wish to pursue.

There are ways we can do this as educators. Jollee Patterson and Dr. Domanic Thomas created a list of preventative measures multiple resolution pathways. We should start conversations early on regarding free speech with our students. Have sessions in our Orientation programs and First-Year experience courses. Introducing controversial topics with experts in the field (ex: faculty lecture series), supporting co-programming and organized debates with student organizations with differing viewpoints. Also, working with faculty to create space for other ideas and growth in the classroom.

As faculty and staff at UW, we have ways to get involved in student activism and student free speech. For example, UW Seattle has organized a group called “United with Students.” You can join a mailing list to learn about meeting dates and times, and get information about issues they are exploring.

  • About: We are a group of UW advisers who engage the needs of historically marginalized students, considering holistically the intersection of their academic and personal selves. We seek to empower students via collaborations that prioritize resource sharing and amplification of student concerns. Through these and other actions that build a network of student advocates across campus, we aim to transform the university into one that benefits and serves the entire community.
  • Join the mailing list here:
  • To post a message to all the list members, send email to


One tool of learning is to reflect on the subject and we all challenged our self to create a paragraph reflection to be able to process the work we do daily with our students.


What I have learned about Student Activism is that free speech and the first amendment take precedence over my personal feelings and views on particular issues that take place at my university campus, especially as an employee of the state. For example, as a social justice educator, I must also make room for opposing sides – this means the students who have conservative viewpoints compared to my progressive lens. However, this does not mean I have to support these students, it just means that I have to respect and make space for perspectives which are different and opposite to mine. I am an educator who is rooted in social and racial justice, working to alleviate the oppression that marginalized students face as they navigate higher education. From our learning community read We Demand by Roderick A. Ferguson, the following quote stood out to me:
“If we are truly to understand this very interesting moment – signaled by demands for gender-neutral bathrooms in documents about anti-black racism or by marches in which affirmations of the dignity of transgender blacks are part of call-and-response chants – we have to look at the legacies of feminist and queer attempts to connect various kinds of struggles as a means of combating regimes of alienation (p. 77).”


While being involved in this Learning Community, I thought about the ways in which I show up to campus and build relationships with our students. I support student activism and joined this LC in order to figure out the best ways to demonstrate this and fully support our student activists emotionally and physically. As a former student activist, I wish I would have known staff and faculty who supported our rallies and protests and endorsed our efforts; it would have been great to have staff and faculty at our side supporting our voices and validating the injustices we raised, so we didn’t feel like it was us vs. them; the students vs. the administration. The student body shouldn’t be afraid to stand up, speak out, and be heard.

Student activism is essentially the embodiment of what higher education seeks to do, which is cultivate and actively engage those concerned about issues that matter” – Dr. OiYan Poon (Rogers, 2018).

I learned that organized movements and initiatives can fizzle out with the cycle of academia (Whitford, 2019). I’ve seen this with students involved with social justice organizations who get busy with final exams, school breaks, jobs or graduate and move out of the area. With students only on campus for a temporary period until they graduate, the institutional memory only lasts a few years and movements lose momentum. It’s therefore imperative for student activism to be incorporated into existing structures in the school, for instance within a student club or organization, with students of varying class years and with solidarity of advisors so that the work can be carried on year after year or quarter after quarter. Going forward my goals are to be more involved with student groups in order for the members to know they have my support. Later this month, I look forward to attending the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity, and gaining tools to bring back to better serve our students.


Whitford, Emma (2019, January 3). Student Activists’ Biggest Obstacle Often Is the Rhythms of College Activism Itself. Retrieved from

Rogers, Jamie (2018, November 1). How Should College Leaders Respond to Campus Protests? Retrieved from  


We Demand, by Roderick A. Ferguson, showed me just how much of the struggles students face today are rooted in the past. The blueprint for colleges’ and universities’ responses to student activism were developed decades ago. For example, the concept of corporations as people and minorities (and the subsequent use of the idea of ‘diversity’ as a way to further minoritize actual people) highlight how institutions have been intentionally used and politicized to suppress activism and protest and how those mechanisms are still very much in place and even more firmly set in how institutions operate on behalf of the state today.

Going forward, as a career services professional, I will work with students on how they can articulate the ways in which the skills and experiences developed through student activism can be transferable for future employers or graduate programs. Leadership, communication, organization and a passion for social justice can all help students stand out in their chosen careers, for example. While my job is to support all students and respect their freedom of speech, regardless of whether their views match my own, I will also continue to be aware of how the institution we’re a part of, no matter how relatively progressive or supportive of students, works to suppress activism and slow change.

Jessica & EVA

Two things stick out the most about the University of Washington Bothell: (1) we have a commitment to serving our large population of first-generation college students, and, (2) student activism is a strong, highly-valued characteristic of the UWB student body. It’s sometimes difficult to work in higher education and feel caught in the middle of free speech from the public and, on the other side, wanting to prevent hate speech that threatens a welcoming campus climate for our students. From an advisor role, we can listen to frustrations and, when possible, mediate conflicts. But being advisors at the University of Washington Bothell brings a responsibility to do more.

Faculty, staff, and visitors to our Bothell campus often recognize and take pride in the high level of student activism, and the direct impact student efforts have had on our campus services and structures (looking at you, Diversity Center!). But these colleagues also notice the need for campus staff and leaders to do more. In the School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences, students are not shy to let us know! So begins the journey of two IAS advisors joining the Supporting Student Activism Learning Community. We viewed this Learning Community as an opportunity to widen a campus practice toward supporting and developing UWB’s student activists.

We Demand, by Roderick A. Ferguson, did a wonderful job of explaining the history of campus demonstrations and how these can be seen as a microcosm of society.  It was fascinating to read the “Report of the President’s Commission on Campus Unrest” (1970) and learn how university administrators responded to pressures from outside to contain the disruptions, a.k.a campus demonstrations, (p. 18) which eventually led administrators lobbying state legislatures for permission to establish on-campus police departments (p.31).  Yet, city and state police departments have become militarized. This can lead to dangerous confrontations on college campuses between demonstrators, protestors and the general public. A close example of this was the shooting that occurred at the Milo Yiannopoulos event at UW Seattle this fall (

We hope to continue listening to the student voices on campus and reassure them that their safety and wellbeing is important to us.  We will advocate for them to this end whenever possible.

Interesting fact: The current president of the American Studies Association (  is We Demand author Roderick A. Ferguson. The next incoming president is Dr. Scott Kurashige from UW Bothell’s School of IAS!


I became the faculty advisor for the Latinx Student Union this year, and I wanted to learn more about how I could support the students while always remembering that they are the leaders and I need to listen to them about what their needs are. Along with the information I gleaned from our common readings over the course of the year, I gained a lot from becoming connected with other staff who are equally committed to supporting student activism. These colleagues will be people I turn to when I have questions about resources for student activists, or when I need to talk through an issue related to student activism that I’m unsure about. The Learning Community also made me aware of Tri-Campus resources that I will share with students. Finally, this experience has raised my interest in creating a course in the future (I teach in the American and ethnic studies major) that surveys the history of student activism, using Roderick Ferguson’s We Demand as our course textbook.


As a new professional in student affairs, I’ve advised our student media organizations (arts journal, newspaper, radio) for the past two years. During this time, I’ve immersed myself into a new terrority around policies regarding student expression that impacts school-sponsored media, from the Washington legislation that was passed, RCW 28B.10.037 . My motto which is the basic foundation of most student affairs professional is to challenge and support our students, something I have been thinking critically as we enter a new era of activism on college campuses. How are we intentionally providing a critical lens for our students to embrace organizing and activism when their identities are being challenged and most often their safety is threatened? What I have learned is when we have hate speech on campus is to counter program with more speech that takes the form of activism, and speaking out about how we do not condone this type of hate speech on our campus. But is this enough? The legislation that passed back in summer 2018, stated that advisers are not permitted to have any say in the content of student media. So I am left thinking about how do I empower my students to be creative about their speech and mobilize when they are not able to turn away other students who do want to showcase distasteful and what I believe is outly hate speech. I believe that building a relationship based on trust is key to supporting student activism, and it starts with that one on one conversation to learn about these different perspectives and challenging them. But it goes without saying, I’ve encountered spaces and interactions with staff and students who don’t align with my values and humanity. Sometimes it can be exhausting and hard to get through to those individuals. And for those individuals, it is not just my sole responsibility to educate, thus this is where I will tap my colleagues who hold those privileges, to do the work that needs to be done to support student activism. I will do continue to lead and challenge our students empathetically, but for the ones I cannot get through to, and for my own self-care I will say thank you, next.

As we end the academic year at UW, I ask all my collegues to reflect on this past year and think about the work you have done for students. I am sure our students will be very grateful for the work you have done. Continue to support them and challenge them in order for them to become model citizens when they leave our campuses.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s