Editor’s Note: This is the fifth in the pursuit of social justice by our 2017 Mike Honda Writing Fellow, Amanda Ong. Read her first piece on identity, second piece on Tam v. USPTO, third piece on power, fourth piece on feminism, and fifth piece on Columbia’s xenophobic vandalism.
In the face of the immigration ban, students of my college reacted quickly. Within the day after the executive order was released and during the entirety of the following week, our campus hosted a group of protesters at all times—sometimes in masses including at least ten percent of the student body at any given moment.
Student groups organized, and they organized quickly. Despite the other responsibilities of being a full time student—classes, homework, extracurricular activities—the students of Columbia University were determined to show the administration that this issue deeply affected our community, and addressing the ban is of the utmost importance. They produced a list of demands, and some professors even came out in support of student actions. Movement happened fast.
Within a few days of the executive order members of Columbia’s administration too condemned the ban. This was unsurprising, as they have condemned Trump in the past, some going as far as to say that Trump and Pence together constitute “a president and vice-president that challenge the central idea of a university”. The administration also released statements urging students from the affected countries to avoid leaving the U.S. until further notice, and set up for pro-bono legal services for students who may be affected.
Columbia student groups are continuing to push for the administrations to provide greater legal support as well as free housing over the summer for students from the seven countries who will not be able to return to their homes in summer. Though provisions are unconfirmed, the University administration has come out stating that they are going to continue to do what they can to support students.
While politically mobilized college students are often put down as being oversensitive and unable to produce any real change, I believe that there is a lot to be learned from the work of student activists. Already in my six or so months at this university, I feel like I have learned so much about political mobilization.
Even when change can feel so slow college students are quick to act. They turn their passion, their empathy, into organization perhaps even faster than they churn out papers. In the past, I have heard many adults condemn college students and their intense dedication to activism. They say that college students should be focusing on their studies, that these are not things we should be concerning ourselves with.
In many ways the mode in which my peers have worked around the immigration ban should be modeled—it shows us that you do not have to be a professional organizer, nor a politician, nor a pro-bono lawyer to fight for these issues and instigate change. You can be a researcher, an artist, a computer science fanatic.
Anyone can advocate for human rights if they decide it is important to them. These students are pre-med, double majors, members of multiple clubs, and work part-time, but still they make it their business to protect the rights of the human. All they need is some time, a voice, and a community to make significant changes.
I have learned from these students that you do not need to commit your life to activism to be an activist. If your passion is programming or dance, you may commit your life to that, and still be an activist during dinner table discussions, still spend free moments pressing for the safety of other people, and still do whatever you can to support those people and organizations who do commit themselves entirely to activism. Anyone can be an activist—and everyone needs to be an activist if we want to create real, meaningful change. So be an activist; in any way you can.
– Amanda Ong