While University students have engaged in their own political row over University admissions policies and the war with Iraq, a second front for activism has flourished in Ann Arbor public high schools.
But despite high school students’ participation in walkouts and University protests, many students said social pressures pervading the high school environment make it difficult to become politically active.
“Being in college, I don’t have to worry about my mom hanging over my shoulder and giving me limits on what I can do,” said LSA freshman Sarah Barnard, an organizer for the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action and Integration and Fight for Equality by Any Means Necessary. “I think she was blown away by the fact that I was doing stuff on my own and that I had other mentors to look up to.”
Barnard – who co-founded a BAMN chapter at Ann Arbor Huron High School last year – said high school students encounter obstacles to their demonstrations for University admissions policies, but are just as politically motivated as University students.
“High school students never really have a chance to speak out, but they’ve always been the most active and most vocal in the Civil Rights Movement,” she said, referring to high school activism during the 1960s.
Barnard added that several students from Ann Arbor and Detroit public schools have chartered buses to Washington today, when the U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments over the University’s use of race in admissions.
In addition to citing parental cynicism over high school activism, some Ann Arbor students said high school faculty and administration do not support student demonstrations against the war with Iraq.
“I’ve talked to some faculty and the general rule is, ‘Don’t talk about it during class,'” Huron High School senior Jenna Peters-Golden said.
“I think they’re not more supportive of pro-war or anti-war people either – they’re just trying to be as diplomatic as possible.”
“A lot of high schools don’t encourage protests” said Community High School senior Ben Ayer, a member of a local Students for Peace chapter.
Although Ayer said more than 300 Community students participated in a recent citywide high school walkout to protest the war, he said teachers from other Ann Arbor schools prevented students from rallying by locking classroom doors and prohibiting posters in hallways. “Although some teachers can be encouraging, activism can also be oppressed because they don’t want students to get too radical,” he said.
On top of antagonism from parents and administrators, Ann Arbor high school activists said they must also face negative stigma from their peers.
“Not a lot of students are getting into (political activism) in the Ann Arbor area,” said Huron sophomore Dorian Jordan, a member of her school’s BAMN chapter. “A lot of them won’t do it because it’s not cool, or it’s not the thing to do.”
“There’s a lot of students who just don’t care,” Peters-Golden said, adding that many upperclassmen did not attend the walkout because it occurred during their free periods.
But some University students said peer pressure against student activism can be found at the college level as well.
“There is definitely more pressure on this campus to express liberal views, in the sense that there’s diversity advocated at Michigan, but not ideological diversity,” Young Americans for Freedom member Mike Phillips said, citing University students’ reluctance to express conservative viewpoints amid a myriad of leftwing coalitions.
“If you look at this campus, you can’t tell if there are more conservatives out there … because they tend to be less active.”
“At the University, sometimes people don’t think they have to be so committed,” Barnard said. “High school students – they’re more loose, they’re more extroverted and they’re the ones who have not been afraid to fight. Coming to college, there’s a lot more pressure here for students to deal with” – like schoolwork, she said.