The United Nations defines “youth” as persons between the ages of 15 and 24. This population has been broadly criticized for “slacktivism,” or activism essentially limited to liking Facebook posts and retweeting on Twitter. However, given recent youth-influenced demonstrations and new cause-oriented organizations, clubs, and initiatives on college campuses, a shift is emboldening today’s youth to speak their mind on social issues and advocate for the causes about which they are passionate. In fact, the American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2015 Survey conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California–Los Angeles found 96.9% of incoming college students for the 2015–16 academic year said they witnessed increased activism among high school and college students during their senior year of high school. The survey also found 74.6% of incoming students regarded “helping others in difficulty to be a ‘very important’ or ‘essential’ personal objective,” and 59.2% “expressed strong commitment toward improving their understanding of other countries and cultures.”
ACUI’s Student Activism Showcase explores this trend. The following pages feature student leaders from different campuses—each focused on a unique cause—who detail their inspirations, how they have influenced positive change in their community, and their observations on how activism is best approached and achieved. Each commentary is concluded with advice for fellow and future students who aspire to engage in activism. The showcase also includes the winning essay for ACUI’s 2016 Gretchen Laatsch Scholarship. The recipient, Jessie Ashton, a graduate student at Indiana University, conveys her inspirations, motivations, learning experiences, and perspective as she progresses in her student affairs career.