Monday, November 6, 2017

How might Christians respond to university student strikes?

There are many things I am learning from my friends in the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES). They provide a perspective on global Christianity and bring up issues that in the affluent Western world we do not grapple with. Here I want to start to explore the issue of strikes (or class boycotts) by university students in the Majority World. In some countries, ranging from South Africa to Papua New Guinea, it is not unusual for a campus to be closed down for a substantial fraction of the year. Strikes are about a wide range of issues: student fees, racism, de-colonisation, politics, government corruption, university policies, sexual violence, ....
This disruption and the associated unpredictability has serious implications for the education of students, for campus life, and the relationship of government to the university.

Student protests are not unknown in the Western world, even right now, particularly in the USA on issues of racism and sexual violence. The Wikipedia page on Student protest, lists a long and fascinating list of actions. These range from protests at the University of Missouri in 2015-2016 to a two-year strike at the University of Paris in 1229!  Some protests are successful in bringing about significant change (even the fall of governments), while others end in tragedy such as the 1989 massacre of students in Tiananmen Square. Others just peter out...

However, most of the current protests in the Majority World are on a completely different scale to anything happening in the West. I have studied and worked at universities in Australian and the USA for the last 40 years, and I can only recall one or two day when classes were cancelled, and that was due to faculty strikes, not students. To be honest, I wish Australian students were passionate enough about some issue to want to strike! I particularly wish they were more concerned about social justice and educational issues.

The main question I am interested in is my title, "How might Christian students, faculty, and IFES groups respond to a university student strike on their campus?"

To get the flavour of the issues and one specific response look at this example from the Student Christian Organisation in Cape Town.

There are many possible responses: ignore, oppose, join, organise, moderate...
Given the diversity of issues and contexts, I think the answer will depend on the specific strike.
This is a complex issue with no clear-cut answers and I think it is best to first back up a bit and explore some other questions.

What lessons might be learned from the history of student strikes and demonstrations in different global contexts?

Why do these strikes occur?

What is my perspective as a faculty member?

What would be my advice to the strikers?

What might be a Christian perspective?

How can student Christian groups function and be a witness (in life and word) best in this context?

I will try and explore these questions in future posts. Feel free to post your own questions and answers.

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