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Preparing for and Responding to Student Activism on Campus

July 28 2016

Campus demonstration
College and university campuses have seen an increase in student activism this year. Due in part to a growing interest in political and community engagement, students have participated in protests and other forms of activism to bring awareness to issues related to racism and racial discrimination, campus employees, foreign policy, and state laws on sexual orientation to list a few. In some cases, students compiled lists of demands for institutional leadership calling for changes like the removal of certain school faculty and administrators, greater student and/or faculty diversity, increased support for multicultural services, improved mental health assistance for minority students, and better handling of police misconduct. The protests and sit-ins have varied in length, from one day to several weeks, and are often encouraged and supported via social media by students on other campuses expressing their solidarity.

Findings from The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2015 (PDF) study, part of the Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP) and administered nationally by the Higher Education Research Institute at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, found that interest in political and civic engagement has reached the highest levels since the study began 50 years ago. The survey of 141,189 full-time, first-year students from around the U.S. found that nearly 1 in 10 incoming first-year students expects to participate in student protests while in college. "Student activism seems to be experiencing a revival, and last fall's incoming freshman class appears more likely than any before it to take advantage of opportunities to participate in this part of the political process," said Kevin Eagan, director of CIRP. "We observed substantial gains in students' interest in political and community engagement across nearly every item on the survey related to these issues."

With the start of the fall semester approaching, many college and community officials may be preparing for student activism on campus. Community/police relations play a vital role in these efforts and you can find useful information and training compiled in these NCCPS documents: Building and Maintaining Successful Community RelationsCivil Disturbances and Emergency Preparedness, and Community Relations Resources (PDF). In addition, the following resources may assist campus public safety officials in creating proactive and positive communication and engagement strategies that can protect the constitutional rights of demonstrators and the safety of citizens and the police:

  • Final Report of the President's Task Force on 21st Policing - This report includes best practices and recommendations identified by the Task Force on 21st Century Policing on how policing practices can promote effective crime reduction while building public trust. One section, Pillar 2. Policy & Oversight (pp. 19-30), provides recommendations and action items that include policing mass demonstrations. 
  • Maintaining Safety And Order On College And University Campuses During Protests And Demonstrations: Promising Practices - This For Official Use Only (FOUO) report offers an array of proven concepts, ideas, and resources identified and discussed during the focus group meeting that campus law enforcement executives may choose from to maintain safety and security when encountering a public protest or demonstration. Law Enforcement personnel may request a copy of this document.
  • Responding to Campus Protests: A Practitioner Resource - This issue of Legal Links offers student affairs professionals with a resource for addressing campus protests. It contains short articles that identify key legal rules applicable to campus protests, suggest policy language for student codes of conduct, distinguish between practices at private and public institutions, present advice on partnering with campus police, and more. 
  • Response to Protests on UC Campuses - Following physical conflict between police and protesters during demonstrations at UC Berkeley and UC Davis in November 2011, the university's president requested a review of existing policies and practices regarding the university's response to demonstrations and civil disobedience. This resulting report includes 49 recommendations in nine areas to guide the UC system and campuses in how to respond to future protests effectively by addressing roles and responsibilities; policies; organization and structure; and training.

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