It has taken more than deliberations among its leadership to steer the University of Michigan. Images of student protests projected on Angell Hall call attention to the central role of student activism in shaping the history and character of U-M.
Student activism first began appearing on campus during World War I, when disputes arose over the issues of military instruction and teaching of the German language. In the 1930s, student groups formed to promote socialism, labor, isolationism and pacifism. Activism returned again with a vengeance during the 1960s with the Civil Rights Movement and Vietnam War. Low minority student enrollment has been a recurring target for protest on campus, from the Black Action Movement of the 1970s to the more recent Being Black at U-M (#BBUM) campaign. While student protest of all forms has caused tension, disruption and criticism at U-M, it has also promoted reflection, understanding and progress on campus.
“Michigan rightfully claims the waves of student protest that shaped its history. So much so that one is tempted to forget that, at times, it was the university itself being forcefully critiqued. Student protest is hard, disruptive and even dangerous. But if we celebrate it in our past, then we must also embrace it in the present. This can make us better now and in the future.”
Earl Lewis Collegiate Professor of Afroamerican and African Studies and in the Residential College and Associate Dean, Undergraduate Education, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts
“When thinking about the legacy of student activism at U-M, we should think about the ways in which we can help students create a more democratic and accountable university. When students challenge U-M around the cost of tuition, housing and even its investment in markets that may contribute to climate change and the military-industrial complex, student activists are advancing a vision of a future university community that is not only accountable to its student body, faculty and staff, but to the rest of the world.”
Michigan-Mellon Humanities Postdoctoral Fellow in Egalitarianism and the Metropolis
To learn more about how student activism has shaped the history of U-M: