On a campus where students once spent 37 days camping out on the seventh floor of the Michigan Union to protest a secret society’s use of Native American culture, active students know how to make a scene.
It’s a scene that gets noticed and puts the University on countless “top politically active campuses” lists.
But many charge that the liberals get all the attention.
This month, a self-described “social justice” political magazine ranked the University of Michigan on the list of top activist campuses for 2003 along with other colleges such as New York University and James Madison University in Virginia.
The magazine mentioned the busloads of students who traveled to Washington in April to rally for the University’s admission policies hearing as an example of student activism.
But not everyone who went to Washington supported the University’s side.
In previous years, when the University has been selected as a top activist campus, illustrations of student activism tend to focus on liberal causes such as last year’s anti-war rallies and the campaign to end the University’s labor contract with Nike due to the company’s labor conditions.
“Everyone thinks that you have to be a liberal or progressive to be an activist, but I disagree,” said LSA junior Bobby Raham, who describes himself as a conservative activist.
“Being an activist is making a difference by standing up in what you believe in,” he added.
Sweetland Writing Center and RC Prof. Helen Fox spoke at last year’s advocacy day addressing student activism.
“The norm is not to question and accept how things are so students who protest tend to be progressive because the norm is conservative,” said Fox, who graduated from University of California at Berkeley – another campus recognized for its student protests against the Vietnam War in the late 1960s.
Raham, who helped organized last week’s rally on the Diag in support of American forces in Iraq, said that some conservative issues on this campus also break norms.
“When pro-life groups on campus are active on campus, they are breaking the norm that the Roe vs. Wade ruling made in the 1970s,” Raham said.
History Prof. Margaret Steneck co-teaches a class on the history of the University and the role that activism has played in its past.
“The liberal causes in the University’s history of political activism has in the past gained more attention then other conservative issues,” Steneck said.
“But that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been conservative issues. For example, during the 1960s the Young Americans for Freedom was organized but, because of the political climate of the time, students didn’t gravitate to it,” she added.
But for many students on campus, political activism does not spark their interest.
“Most students come to school not really sure of what they believe in yet or don’t know why they believe in something,” Fox added. “It’s partly why people go to college.”