Campus Protests, Why History is Not Repeating Itself

I’ve been struck by how readily observers are to slot the current protests on campus into a repeat of ones from the 1960s. This is a mistake. Here are two key differences:

1> While it is still a privilege to get a college degree, today it’s a privilege many students cannot, or can barely, afford. As The New York Times recently reported, student loan debt has now outpaced credit card debt. Students today are caught between college costs that are rising, and decades of disinvestment in public education.

2> In many cases, it is precisely this disinvestment that students are protesting. While many students see links behind their activism and other social issues, they are primarily advocating on behalf of themselves, not presuming to speak on behalf of others.

So it’s fallacious to view the protests positively through nostalgia-tinged (and ultimately patronizing) invocations of 60s era protests by Boomers, as if this was merely a repeat of those protests and issues. And it’s equally inane to view the protests as “spoiled rich kids rocking the boat” because they are privileged enough to do that without consequences. To the contrary, they are rocking the boat because it’s a bad boat, precisely because they are not privileged. They aren’t just waving (signs); they’re drowning (in debt, in expenses, in an economy that offers them none of the prospects or security it did fifty years ago.)

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