Let’s play a free association word game. What is the first word that comes to your mind when you think of activism? There is no wrong answer. Don’t over think, just say the first word. Marching. The 60s. Protesters. Posters. Picketing. Boycotting. Change. Advocacy. These might be some of the words you came up with. Perhaps you even thought of students. My word was smart – a word a few years ago I would not have associated with activism. Did any of you think of, college, or intellectual, scholar, or university, lecturer, professor, pupil, graduate, tutor, theory, or education? Suffice it to say, you did not.
The word “activism” can of course conjure up very different sets of words than listed above, depending on where you live. I am speaking from the U.S. context. Academics and activism are two words that, when separated, seem counterintuitive. Almost oxymoronic – like theoretical practice or minor crisis, unbiased opinion, or the living dead. Said together, Academic Activism creates an entire new set of meaning.
The challenge is this: to encourage and inspire true Academic Activism. I see this as Not For Sale’s core competency; giving individuals, communities, companies, institutions, and industries different entry points into activism. I am an academic. I am a social entrepreneur. I am a data analyst. I am a business executive. I am a baseball player. I can be all of these things and be an abolitionist, an activist.
There is a history of activism and social movements within the academic community. The enlightenment of education has led many students on campaigns against injustice – such as in the Vietnam War era or against racial segregation. In recent times, student activists have been at the forefront of GFC and the Occupy protests – demanding economic justice. The ironic side note of this is, modern slavery is a global economic crisis and yet there is no global uprising in response. However, I digress. What we are talking about here is a type of activism that does not end at graduation. A culture of activism that is an intrinsic part of the academic social consciousness.
The concept of “Academic Activism” is not an original phrasing. It is an audacious convergence of theory and practice, of awareness and action, of education and advocacy. Awareness alone is passive. Education without application holds little meaning in a world that has gone astray. Awareness must be a byproduct of action. Education must be a process of advocacy. The academic institution must be a driver of holistic justice. Being part of the academic community, whether you are a graduate or an educator, a student, an administrator or a sports coach, does not mean you cannot also be an activist. In fact I think it means you must be.
Imagine your educational experience as a process of advocacy. Engineering departments, law schools, mathematics faculties, all professing that we are Academic Activists. Education is meant to be subversive. It will challenge and shift, shape and change the people it informs.
We are talking about a radical, revolutionary, rebellious, systemic change in the academic institution. We are talking about embedding the cause of socio-economic justice into the DNA of the academic experience. In the lecture theatre, on the sports field, in the cafes and bookstores and after graduation – I am an Academic Activist. You learn about it, you teach it, you wear it, you drink it, you eat it and then you take it with you wherever you go.
This is the sort of tangible connection between the academic community and the bottom billion that will change the world. Apathy only exists because of disconnectedness from reality. We need to change this. There is an entry point into activism for everyone. Your education must be your advocacy, your activism. Education is a gift. In my opinion, education is a gift that must be paid forward. This is Academic Activism. Two words together that can change the world!
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Learn more about Academic Activism on your campus.