One the best things about University students is that we are passionate for change. Many people envision a better school, community or world and work to make it a reality. This is often done through advocacy groups that focus on educating others as well as championing their issue. For many organizations this can work very well. However, on some issues a calm presentation of the facts does very little good. If the system needs fundamental change, you have to achieve that change through protests. University students understand this in a basic sense, and there is a healthy discussion on the place of protests on Grounds. But our protests have no teeth — they accomplish very little on their own. We aren’t willing to make significant sacrifice for the sake of a cause we believe in. Until we are willing to give a great deal for a cause, protests will never be more than a show at the University.
A prime example of this is the Living Wage Campaign. For years they have been working to ensure that University employees receive a wage sufficient to “support their families in Charlottesville.” They have had very little success, and why should they? The arguments they make may be strong, but the administration doesn’t really care if a few students are bothered by how much they pay their employees. There is no power behind their protest.
The one notable success the Living Wage has achieved was during the 2012 hunger strike. Twelve students vowed not to eat until the University administration made concrete steps towards implementing a living wage. The movement gained national attention and forced the administration to respond. Unfortunately the hunger strike had to end after only a few weeks, and no significant changes were achieved, but they proved sacrifices can achieve results. At the time Vice President and Chief Student Affairs Officer Patricia Lampkin warned the strikers, “your actions in the short term could diminish your long-term physical health or set back your long-term academic and career goals.” This is a perfectly reasonable warning, but also shows an attitude that fundamentally does not encourage people to take a principled stand.
It might seem there are some clear counterexamples to my point from the last few years. There were intense protests over the Rolling Stone article. These protests sparked a discussion on sexual abuse on Grounds and led to new initiatives by the University. But the protests would have never worked in isolation, never would have created the change they did without the national media attention the incident brought in the first place. Much the same can be said of the Martese Johnson incident. National media pressured the administration to take a stance, but the protesters failed to accomplish much past voicing their anger at the incident. I’m not arguing either of these protests were unjustified or did not achieve results, but we must recognize that on their own the protests did not have enough strength to force the issue.
Many people call University students entitled — it is one of the many unfortunate stereotypes that comes with going to this wonderful school. But it is hard to deny that it is accurate. Our passion for change is born mostly of convenience. We care a great deal about our grades, our careers and our future. For most students I truly believe there is almost nothing more important than those things to them. That’s not necessarily a problem; it is great to have ambitions for the future. But we must all recognize that dreams of the future limits us. If we want to create real change, sometimes sacrifices must be made. That could mean sacrificing an amazing career, some of the best opportunities you’ll ever get. It will not be easy, it may not even work, but if no one is willing to make a significant sacrifice, change will be slow in coming at best.
Bobby Doyle is an Opinion columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.