The Need for College Feminism

StephBlackby Steph Black, 21Washington DC

Though it may be an old one, the trope of the liberal college student is nothing if not accurate. Instead of seeing this as a negative, something to roll your eyes at, this is something to be celebrated. College students of my generation are more civically and politically engaged than ever before, channeling the activism and protest spirit of the 1960s and 1970s, and this is precisely what the feminist movement needs. Our country is divided, at odds, and in deep need of young activists to take a stand. And at what better place to learn how than a college campus?

College is a unique time in a person’s life, where for most students the complete independence of adulthood is still far off in the distance, yet childhood dependence and seclusion is in the past. On campuses around the country, we are able to exercise our autonomy by taking classes relevant to our interests, joining (or even starting) clubs, interning, and working at places that align with our own values. We engage with our peers, classmates, professors, and friends about politics and current events. And last year, nearly 1 in 10 incoming first-year students reported expecting to participate in student protests. During undergrad, young adults are making the choice to use their independence, time, and resources to develop themselves into young, bright eyed activists.

Let Amanda Nguyen serve as one example. Nguyen was raped as an undergraduate student at Harvard University and began the long and arduous process of seeking justice. She quickly discovered, however, that evidence from a rape kit (which is often instrumental in convicting a predator) can be destroyed as early as six months after being submitted, regardless of the statute of limitations for the actual crime. As a student, she began to question these systems that could make such laws possible. She met with other survivors and discussed at length the ways the criminal justice system has failed them. Only months after her graduation, Nguyen founded Rise, a nonprofit organization focused on the civil rights of sexual assault survivors. She drafted and passed the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights which passed unanimously through the House and Senate and was signed into law. She is one of many examples of student activists becoming full-time activists after they graduate.

As we struggle through the Age of Trump, we are seeing a need unlike any other for the next generation of feminist resisters. Women’s rights are under attack in multiple spheres. From protecting abortion access and Title IX, to closing the wage gap and ending sexual harassment, we’re entering a rejuvenated wave of female resistance. But our movement needs leadership if it’s going to be sustainable and make long term change. The next generation of feminist leadership is going to have to be savvy, smart, and intersectional. Young people are making the choice to stand up to injustices everywhere by taking their time on college campuses to learn how to become tomorrow’s leaders.