The 2014-2015 academic school year for University of Mary Washington students was pretty tough, with the tensions between the administration and the student body at an all-time high. Certain student run organizations felt as if the administration was not taking them seriously and not listening to their concerns about the school. The student’s frustrations peaked in the spring, which lead to the student body voicing their opinions in some unconventional ways. With all of these forms of protest that occurred within the UMW student body, I will use one protest, the Divest UMW sit-in, to explain who holds the power on a college campus and the theory of organizational protest that can be applied to the UMW sit-in.
To sum up the sit-in, a student organization, Divest UMW, wants the school to break away from using fossil fuels that are killing the environment. The students requested to have a sub-committee to look at other options to divest from the fossil fuels, and President Hurley stood behind them at first, until the Board of Visitors decided to decline their request. Then, the students protested this decision by sitting in George Washington Hall. Even though this was a peaceful protest, the school sent police in to clear the hallway and arrest the students who did not leave.
In the article, Breakdown Theories of Collective Action, Bert Useem explains the different theories of organizational protest. One theory is “routine collective action,” which is a more organized protest that is built on solidarity, and includes peaceful protests and rallies; the other theory is “non-routine collective action,” which is when rules break down and the protests end up being more unorganized and break away from solidarity, which can turn into rebellions and riots. Each of these kinds of protests is very different, but effective in the fact that if the people protest in either of these forms, then their concerns would be heard and then there could be a change in the norm.
Useem also tries to argue that young people are the ones who are more active in participating in protests and commit crimes from these protests; however, anyone can participate in any kind of protest if the issue at hand is affecting them. For example, with the Divest UMW sit-in, students were not the only participants, people from the community who are passionate about divest came and sat in with the student organization, such as “…Fredericksburg resident Yanina “Nina” Angelini, 26, who all were arrested by state police for refusing to leave a sit-in in support of divesting the school’s endowment from fossil fuel corporations” (Free Lance Star).
The Divest UMW sit-in can be considered a “routine collective action” protest. The sit-in was peaceful and no one was being harmed during the time that the students were sitting in the building. Although the protest grew from people in the Divest organization to anyone passionate about having the students voices heard, the students were under a form of solidarity and organized the protest. However, once the building became overfilled with students, the school decided that it was a health hazard to have that many students in the protest. Instead of talking it out with the students, the school sent an arrest warning to the protesters and ended up arresting two students and the Fredericksburg resident. Once the police became involved, the “routine collective action” protest turned into a somewhat “non-routine collective action” protest because once the police became involved things got a little hectic and disorganized because as some people were leaving, they were arrested anyway. Even though the school gave warning to the protesters, arresting students for peacefully protesting the schools decision seems a bit over the top because no one was rioting and ruining the school. One of the protesters, Noah Goodwin, sums up the event by claiming “’This is a public university and it is not acceptable to treat students this way,’” Goodwin said. “’The cornerstone of the university is its students’” (Free Lance Star). All in all, the students protested in a non-violent, “routine collective action” way and the school took it as a “non-routine collective action” protest and arrested the students who remained in the building after the arrest warning.
Overall, this situation goes to show how even at a college campus, where most, if not all, students are adults, there are limits on what students can and cannot do. Most of these limitations schools put on the student’s voices is because the schools do not want negative things being said about the school in the media. In order for the school to keep everything in order and to seem more appealing to the incoming students, measures have to be taken to keep any kind of protest or negative thing said by the school under the radar, but this is a double-edged sword in the fact that when the school puts a stop to student-run organizations or protests, then it shows how the school degrades the students by not letting them voice their opinions.