The past few months have seen a surge in activism and participation among college students that makes our work as important as ever. As students have led the way in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and fighting for an end to the systemic racism that plagues the United States, they have demonstrated how important it is for institutions of higher education to encourage and facilitate student participation in the democratic process.

To help colleges and universities create civically engaged campus communities, we will dedicate the next few Speech Spotlight editions to exploring the many pathways of civic participation and how they link together in a campus setting. Beginning with Engaging Student Voters, we continue this series with our newest edition: Supporting Student Activism.

You can read every issue of our Speech Spotlight here. Let us know what topics interest you by emailing us at


Thoughts from Spoma Jovanovic
Professor of Communication Studies, UNC Greensboro
2019-2020 Fellow

“Students need to know how to access grassroots resistance movements and conventional modes of political action to enter civic spaces where issues are hotly contested. As educators, we can support students in their quest to be activists and organizers by marrying our disciplinary interests with the opportunities that free speech and civic engagement present. The fact is our pedagogical opportunities are somewhat fleeting in the lives of students. Thus, making learning relevant for the demands of today, and connecting today’s events to our history are critical to teach students about their place in the unfolding and rich story of what democratic engagement can achieve.

The instructional turn toward civic education and student activism reclaims our public spaces as free speech centers. That is, engaged instructional methods that promote democratic skills do not only offer critically important and rich experiences to students, but they also
foreground ethical priorities necessary in our communities to resist oppression and discrimination in its many forms in favor of justice, equality, inclusion, and love.”

Thoughts from Adam Cooper
PhD. Student, Slade Group, UC San Diego

“Student activism bridges the gap between academic study and the real-world challenges students are training to face. Activism allows for a positive outlet for developed perspectives and continued motivation to pursue integral academic skills necessary to effect change. Without this presence on campus, universities are falling short on their stated mission to not only be places of transferring knowledge, but of nurturing societal advancement.”

Thoughts from Emerson Sykes
Staff Attorney, ACLU
2019-2020 Fellow

“It’s always a good time to support student activism. Campuses have long served as laboratories for new ideas and new social movements. Young people have enormous power to shape our culture and our future. It’s an honor to work alongside student activists as they navigate tough questions and push for change.”

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Related Resources

Speech Spotlight 1: Bias Response Teams

Speech Spotlight Issue 2: Engaging Student Voters

Speech Spotlight Issue 3: Expression and Engagement During COVID-19