Famous College Protests Over the Years

We outline some well-known student protests that range from small-scale demonstrations to massive, historic--and sometimes tragic--disputes.

After reporting on the CISE student protests that were taking place at the University of Florida, I began thinking about the range of protests that have happened in history—particularly the ones involving college students. Campuses are chock full of young, opinionated, enthusiastic students who will always stand behind their beliefs, regardless of the implications. But students are a force to be reckoned with when they team together. Here are some well-known student protests that range from small-scale demonstrations to massive, historic disputes involving thousands of people. Some have ended tragically, while others have lead to positive change for a university or a cause.

The University of Virginia

Just this past June, the University of Virginia students, faculty, and staff protested the firing of University President Teresa Sullivan. Many criticized the lack of transparency when the board of trustees dismissed Sullivan, and they expressed their concern through student newspaper editorials, calls to reinstatement, formal requests for the board’s reasoning, and even a Rally for Honor where faculty spoke to over 1,500 Sullivan supporters gathered on the UVA lawn. The backlash proved fruitful, though, and Sullivan was reinstated after the board admitted to wrongful dismissal.

Kent State

Back on May 4, 1970, one of the most infamous protests in American history took place at Kent State University. Also known as the Kent State Massacre, students began protesting after President Nixon announced the U.S. invasion of Cambodia. Though university officials tried banning the planned gathering of students, over 2,000 people showed up on the University’s commons. After the crowds refused to disperse, the National Guard first used tear gas against protesters, and then opened fire at those present, killing four students and wounding nine others. There is still debate over whether or not the officers were justified in opening fire at the students present.

London tuition protests

Back in November of 2010, students marched through London, Cambridge, Birmingham, and other cities in England demonstrating against proposed governmental cuts in education spending. Since these cuts would cause a sharp increase in tuition costs for students, protesters set off flares, threw eggs and bottles, and fought with police officers in London, causing 14 people to get injured. A New York Times article estimates that 52,000 people gathered near Parliament to protest the new proposals, but government did end up approving the measure, which is set to take effect this year. Check out some images from the protests at Boston.com.

Gallaudet University

Gallaudet is a private university for deaf and hard-of-hearing students. After the president stepped down in 2005, the board of trustees appointed Dr. Jane Fernandes, the University’s provost at the time, to be the next president. This caused an uprising of students, noting the lack of racial diversity among finalists, her less-than-appealing personality, and her lack of fluency in American Sign language. Students protested her position by blocking entrances, hosting rallies, and setting up tents near the main entrance. She refused to step down, and it wasn’t until October when faculty members voted in favor of blocking Dr. Fernandes from becoming president of the University.

California tuition

In 2009, the University of California Board of Regents approved a 32% tuition increase, stating that the $505 million that would be collected by the tuition hike was needed to prevent even deeper cuts than those already made. As expected, this caused students at various UC campus locations to protest. The protest at UC Berkeley resulted in 41 student arrests for trespassing after they locked themselves inside a building. Over 100 students protested in a three-day demonstration at the Santa Cruz location, and several students at the Davis campus were arrested as well. The demonstrations involved mostly students, though faculty, school employees, and others were present to protest the cutbacks.

There are many more student demonstrations in history: Tiananmen Square, Athens Polytechnic, the Knickerbocker affair, and others. What are your opinions on the good, bad, and the ugly—sometimes tragic—results of such protests? Leave your thoughts in the comment section!

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About Catherine Seraphin

Catherine Seraphin

Catherine Seraphin is currently the Multimedia Project Manager at Harvard University and a former Assistant Editor/Online Specialist for CollegeXpress. Catherine graduated from Penn State University with a degree in Journalism, a minor in English, and course concentrations in Business. She was previously an in-depth arts reporter for Penn State’s student-run newspaper, The Daily Collegian, and interned as a features reporter at a paper based in Southern Massachusetts. Catherine previously had a full-year internship with a well-known higher education PR firm. Her favorite experiences during college include her two years as a resident assistant and her involvement in THON, the largest student-run philanthropy in the world. There, she was on the PR committee that helped THON become the third most tweeted topic worldwide. When she isn’t working, you can find Catherine shopping, reading, or running.


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