EDITORIAL | Activism shouldn’t take a summer holiday

Editorials Opinions

As classes end, stay informed on university decisions

The UVic Board of Governors walking towards a student protest. Photo by Mike Graeme, Senior Staff Writer.

As classes end and exam season wraps up, students head back home, jet off to Southeast Asia, or relocate for a four-month internship or co-op in a new city.

The university campus goes quiet. Summer classes begin, and the population at UVic is significantly reduced.

In spite of the absence of students, the university campus continues to operate their business as usual. Many food services continue to run, the library stays open, and general operations carry on. Perhaps most importantly, decisions continue to be made by university administration.

UVic has been alive with student activism this year. From the Stop Starbucks campaign and the Tiny House build in the fall, to the return of Divest UVic in the new year, the university administration has been held accountable by its constituents this academic year.

Unfortunately, the ebb and flow of student activism is largely out of anyone’s control. The factors that lead to high or low engagement are many, varied, and difficult to measure.

This was especially evident with the culmination of these movements at the raucous protest at the end of March that saw the Senate Chambers taken over by students protesting international student tuition raises and the university’s continued investments in fossil fuels. A few days later, this movement continued as students blockaded UVic’s primary administrative building and hosted a cook-out to raise funds for the UVSS Food Bank and Free Store.

The blockade and cookout was called “one last action” by Shay lynn Sampson, one of the organizers.

“We don’t want this movement to stop now, especially since it’s the end of the semester, and this is typically where movements lose momentum,” said Sampson.

Sampson makes an apt observation. As is often the case, these movements die as students leave campus for the summer.

Although Divest UVic saw a peak in media attention and student solidarity in February and March — and they formally drafted a request to UVic to divest from fossil fuels — the UVic Board of Governors won’t respond until their next Board meeting in May.

By May, students will have left campus. They’ll be travelling or working, and they will naturally be less invested in what’s going on at UVic.

This, of course, is of great benefit to the university.

Unfortunately, the ebb and flow of student activism is largely out of anyone’s control. The factors that lead to high or low engagement are many, varied, and difficult to measure.

So we dug into the Martlet archives for a case-study of this phenomenon.

In the winter of 2002, UVic administration’s feet were held to the fire when students launched  a protest against the proposed plan to chop down the trees in what was called ‘Cunningham Woods’, one of the last green spaces within Ring Road. The plan was to make room for the construction of the Island Medical Building — better known these days as the Medical Sciences Building. Hundreds of students gathered around the site, linking arms, in what was called the ‘Ring Around the Woods’ protest in November. But in December, as students headed home over winter break, the university clearcut a section of the forest.

The university played the waiting game, and with an abundance of resources available to them, they won.

In January 2003, a series of protests were conducted by student activists to protect the remaining section of forest. Platforms were installed in the trees, and protesters camped out overnight to prevent further clearcutting. But as winter turned to spring, the activism died down and through the month of June 2003, most of the remaining trees were cut down.

The university played the waiting game, and with an abundance of resources available to them, they won.

The tuition hikes movement and the divestment movement could see the same results — if students stop paying attention.

That being said, the Martlet still publishes over the summer. We maintain a smaller staff and only publish monthly rather than bi-weekly, but we’re still around. We still attend and cover all UVic and UVSS meetings, and we’ll still be around covering the boring details of university governance. So even if you can’t physically be in Victoria this summer, keep reading the Martlet. We’ll keep you up to date.

This academic year has come to an end — so has Volume 71. But the Martlet’s Volume 72 is just around the corner, as is another year of student activism and (hopefully) progress.