As one college president said, “I think we all got a huge pass on this because of COVID,” referring to the in-your-face student protests that didn’t occur due to the shutdowns. But COVID didn’t shutter student activism; if anything, the pandemic’s unequal impact on the poorest members of our society, coupled with the racial injustices that occurred simultaneously, led to a surge in social protests, albeit less traditional.
As Nichole Bernier wrote in this Quarterly’s cover story, “They might not have been able to stand with megaphones on a quad, handing out pamphlets, or seize an administrative building. But they seized familiar tools – digital tools of social media they’d come of age with.”
It will be interesting to see how campus re-openings will affect trends in student activism. Will students return to standing side by side (literally) in protest? Or will they rely more on the digital mouthpieces with which they have become so comfortable and adept. The pandemic may have brought to light the value of both tactics, strengthening student protest voices and expanding their impact. Consider it another silver lining, depending on where you sit.