CampusStudentStudent Affairs

Shouts and Whispers: Student Activism, Outcomes, and Experiences

Thomas (Tio) White (he/they) is one of the MSA Environmental and Social Justice Officers

When most people think about student activism, they think that they don’t know enough to participate. They think that the issue is too complicated, isn’t about them, or not a part of their direct university experience. 

Somewhat predictably, as one the 2024 Environment and Social Justice Officers, I don’t think it has to be this way. I want to offer an alternative way of viewing this space of student empowerment and advocating for change. Student activism and student experience are not necessarily mutually exclusive, where an activity inherently contributes to one or the other, but are instead intertwined, connected, and part of each other. Student activism will of course never be for everyone, but the point we are trying to make is that it CAN be for everyone, and can make a real difference in your experience at university, and the outcome of all the time you spend here.

In our mind, there are three big questions here; firstly, in what way is student activism relevant to me? And secondly, in what ways does my experience at university improve by being a part of student activism? And finally, how does student activism need to change to meet students where they are? 


So, Why is Student Activism About You?

Let’s break down what we mean by student activism a bit. Activism may mean different things to different people, but I like to focus on the idea that activism is grounded in change. Activism represents collective action from people who aren’t in decision-making roles to advocate for change regardless. This applies to young people, to the disenfranchised, to marginalised communities, and yes, to students as well.

Student activism is inherently connected to an idea that a university is not just a service but a community, that a university is in some way accountable to us. This isn’t just because universities are public institutions and therefore in a way accountable to all Australians, but rather that as ‘users’ of the university, we have a certain right and responsibility to participate in its decision making.

We think that this is particularly exciting, because it means that student activism takes so many amazing shapes and forms. A university isn’t always going to do things that we like, and when that happens, student activism is our response.

This can look like solidarity campaigns, protesting, launching our own campaigns (stay tuned with the ESJ on that one), or building mass movements behind certain proposals. Monash has a strong history of student activism. We were a hotbed of radicalism, of student democracy, and advocacy.

It is our view that we can bring that back to a new era of student activism.


So Why is Student Activism About Us Here at Monash, and Why Does It Make Our Monash Experience Better?

The past few years have made it blatantly obvious, students are struggling, and universities need to change. 

Thousands of students have been impacted by conflict abroad, many with families and friends in Gaza, Myanmar, Congo, Ukraine, or many other places around the world suffering from famine, civil conflict, or war crimes. Natural disasters both in Australia and abroad mean students are going days without knowing if their families are okay. Rising hate in the form of anti-semetism, islamophobia, anti-immigrant sentiments, and trans culture warring are making already vulnerable students feel even more targeted.

And even outside of especially vulnerable students, we all need greater support! We are the pandemic generation after all, but outside of that, a university where students are better cared for, more involved in decision-making, more empowered, is SURELY going to be one where we all do better.

From a very cynical view, the less that you are worrying about food insecurity, about climate change, about mental health support, or about being targeted for your identity, the more you can focus on education.

Monash isn’t doing enough. And the good news is, we can change that!

We need a university that provides expanded support to students; leads a compassionate institution willing to understand and account for those impacted by global events; willing to take responsibility and be transparent about its climate impacts and commit to greater action; and care about what its own students want.


How Does Student Activism Meet Me Where I Am?

But above all of this, the biggest myth I want to dispel about student activism is that it has expectations that you have to meet. Conversely, student activism can and should be meeting you where you are.

The thing that I think is often overlooked about disengagement is that too often, it is talked about as part of the problem. I’ve seen this from universities ALL THE TIME. ‘I know our student satisfaction numbers look bad, but if students were just able to engage with the activities we provide them, that would be fine’. Rather than being a part of it, disengagement is a symptom of it.

Everyone cares about something, and everyone (or hopefully everyone) has the capacity to empathise with fellow students, young people, and humans generally. So, the student activism I want to support on campus and create a framework around is there to meet students where they are, understand why they might be disengaged, and, most importantly, find the way that actually speaks to them.

Student activism IS student experience. Through it, we can advocate and protest for a compassionate Monash, a green and sustainable Monash, and a Monash where individual students have a voice.

So I think that if Monash is looking for ways to enhance and enrich the lives of its students, it might not like part of the answer. But that doesn’t mean it won’t work though.

Thomas White

The author Thomas White

Leave a Response