Student activism: trend or tradition?


author: taylor balfour | news writer

Student Activism

One of the protest signs Credit: Jael Bartnik


Is protest at the university a trend, or a tradition?

Justin Trudeau, being the first prime minister to come to the University of Regina since the 1960’s, was cause for excitement on Jan. 26.

“It’s the first time a prime minister has come to the University of Regina since the 1960s, when Lester Pearson came, so this is a pretty significant event for us here,” Vianne Timmons, the president of the University of Regina, told the Leader-Post.

The visit, however, wasn’t entirely filled with selfies and chatter. Amid the joyous crowds gathering to say hello, protesters also flocked to the scene and made their voices heard with their displeasure regarding pipeline installation. With chants of “block the pipeline, block Trudeau” gaining attention, it is unclear if it has currently made an effect.

Emily Barber is the Outreach & Events Coordinator with Regina Public Interest Research Group [RPIRG]. According to their website, they are “a student funded resource centre at the University of Regina committed to social and environmental justice.”

Barber, having taken part in some of the protests when Trudeau was on campus, explained as to what those protesting in Regina were vocalizing.

“We were protesting in solidarity with many others against pipeline development at the University of Regina visit during the prime minister’s cross-country town hall tour,” Barber states.

“The focus of the protest at the University of Regina was the recent oil spill from a pipeline on the Ocean Man First Nation reserve just a small distance south from Regina. This protest was organized by First Nations students at the U of R and was supported by settler and First Nations students alike, both on-campus faculty, staff and students and community members.”

Regina wasn’t the only location where Trudeau would receive criticism. While in Winnipeg on Jan. 25, a First Nations elder of Treaty 1 stood to speak.

“Our treaty has allowed you people to come to our territories,” a First Nations elder said according to CBC Manitoba. “So I’m asking that you people that are making statements, please respect everybody, please respect our territory.”

Student protests against political issues are no stranger to the media as of late, as demonstrated by the Women’s Marches taking places around the world, as well as anti-Trump marches, environmental protests, and demands to allow refugees into certain countries.

“Personally, I believe that student protest is having a resurgence in Canada,” Barber claims.

“If we can take a look back to the late 1960s and the 1970s, we see that the University of Regina was once a hot-spot for political engagement and activism of many sorts. Though the U of R campus has taken a dip in frequency of political action in the past couple of decades, I have seen a much greater rate of interest and participation among students in issues which affect us and our futures so tangibly even in my short five years at the University of Regina.”

Barber even cites specific instances in which the student body has been extremely vocal and active in their protests.

“Some examples of issues where students have been active recently are tuition, the environment, LGBTQ issues, and women’s rights.”

In recent years the U of R student body has protested speakers such as Bill Whatcott who made an appearance on campus in fall of 2016, making posters and standing in the Riddell Center to warn any passing him. Many students in Regina also spoke out against the Dakota Access Pipeline and its danger to the environment as well as its effect on First Nations land.

U of R president Vianne Timmons was also vocal about her beliefs when she spoke out regarding her opposition to the travel ban in effect in the United States. A school that encourages others to speak out also has a president who does the same.

In January, students also gathered to protest the sport of Jallikattu in India and show support for its ban. According to CBC, the sport “involves releasing a bull into a crowd of people who attempt to grab it and ride it,” and was banned regarding its animal cruelty. The protest was mentioned to be peaceful, involving a walk through Regina’s downtown area.

“I want to stress that though environmental degradation is important for everyone, that this issue is far more complex than just one pipeline, spill, or political action. The issue of environmental degradation disproportionately affects many segments of our population whose voices often go unheard. I want to be clear that in this protest, and many like it, as a white settler woman, I stand for environmental protection, but this protest focus was for the Ocean Man First Nation, and I participated in solidarity with the organizers and those affected by the recent spill,” Barber emphasizes.

However, Barber is also passionate about the importance of protesting and speaking up.

“I believe this issue is important to students because it informs our environmental and political responsibilities as both Canadian citizens, and folks living in a settler-colonial state.”

“This issue’s importance, in my opinion, is only made more tangible to the Regina context because of the Energy East pipeline set for construction through our own backyard. It is planned to run alongside the U of R campus, and underneath the Regina community of Harbour Landing (an area home to many students). This development is made more complicated by a government which is unwilling to take steps towards environmental regulations regarding oil production and which has a track record (as does the rest of Canada) of ignoring the wishes of the area’s First Nations communities,” stated Barber.

Barber also acknowledges that students are the future of the country, and are a huge part of it.

“Students make up a large population, not only in Regina but in Canada as a whole,” Barber emphasizes, hoping to encourage students to further using their voices for good.

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