A Stance or a Step? Evaluating Student Organizations' Solidarity and Action

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2021-12

Authors

Boyd, Bryanna

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Abstract

The university occupies a unique position as one of the oldest — and therefore the most steadfast—institutions while intending to serve a population of students who are invested in seeking change and engaging in activism. This tension has created a rich history of student advocacy and protest that takes place inside and outside of the classroom. The recent revitalization of the Black Lives Matter movement has sparked an interest in social justice. With this interest there has emerged the use of "solidarity statements" across universities, departments, and student organizations as ways to align themselves with the larger movement. While the rhetoric and contentious repertoires of protest movements has been investigated, a particular attention is required to understand the purposes and qualities of student activism. My research is guided by the question: what do solidarity statements say about the nature of student organizations and their potential demands for social and structural change? Using statements posted to Instagram between May 2020 and August 2020 by student groups at the University of Texas at Austin, I will consider the ways in which students position themselves as change agents and view the university in relation to their efforts. Furthermore, this study evaluates the particular aspects that define student advocacy as it takes place in the digital environment of Instagram. This study will shine light on the formal and informal powers of student organizations and individual students in positioning themselves as advocates for social change and shaping the university long-term.

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