How Students Seized The Year

How Students Seized The Year

It’s been another tumultuous, traumatic year, but young people continue to organize.


It’s been another tumultuous, traumatic year, and students have seen some of the worst of it. With Covid-19 came abrupt campus closures, online-only education, and the disintegration of student life as we had come to know it. But through it all, young people continued to organize. They not only kept their pre-pandemic priorities alive amid the chaos; they fought for fair treatment for their fellow students and educators, for human rights abroad and voting rights at home, for racial justice, against sexual violence, for an end to student debt, for a rational approach to mitigating climate change and for a future free of intolerance and fear. Student Nation was able to chronicle some of this upheaval in more than sixty articles in 2021 written by students. We’ve selected 10 pieces from the past year to highlight their extraordinary writing and reporting. We’re deeply grateful to the Puffin Foundation, whose enormous generosity made this work possible.

MARCH 16: Protecting Pro-Palestine Activists Can Feel Almost Impossible—but These Students Succeeded

This article details how student organizers successfully fought a demand that UCLA release the names of anonymous speakers at a National Students for Justice in Palestine conference.

APRIL 22: Platforms Like Canvas Play Fast and Loose With Students’ Data

Very few universities have yet to reckon with the enormously consequential data justice implications of remote learning technologies, argued our authors.

JUNE 9: No Generation Without Representation

There exist few meaningful levers of representation for young Americans—that is, people under the age of 40—in policy-making. This systemic lack of sustained, youth-specific roles across the federal government limits young people’s agency and makes them feel undervalued, even, or maybe especially, when Democrats are in power. 

JUNE 29: How the Pandemic Made It Harder to Become a Doctor

Covid-19 limited class sizes and made medical schools more competitive, while also giving students less experience as clerkships at training hospitals were paused. This article explores the long-lasting impact of the pandemic on future physicians and their patients.

AUGUST 2: Graduate Workers at UT Austin Are Undervalued, Underpaid, and Demanding Answers

After the first year of precarious pandemic protocols, graduate workers at the University of Texas at Austin raised concerns when their health benefits were reduced. A graduate student organization, Underpaid@UT, spent months applying continuous pressure to get answers and redress.

AUGUST 27: Joe Biden Can Cancel Your Student Loan Debt

Legal experts, the Senate majority leader, and borrowers all agree that the president has the authority to cancel student loan debt. But after almost a year of Biden in office, nothing has changed. With payments scheduled to resume soon and student debt at an all-time high, this article is, sadly, more relevant than ever.

SEPTEMBER 14: How Students Pressured Harvard to Divest From Fossil Fuels—and Won

Following a decade of sustained student organizing, Harvard University agreed in 2021 to fully divest its roughly 41 billion dollar endowment of any fossil-fuel companies and to bar any future investments in coal, oil, and gas. This historic triumph was a testament to the power of persistence, patience, and tenacity, as a leader of Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard explained. (Two years ago, the group helped bring their divestment campaign into the national spotlight with a much-noticed protest at a 2019 Harvard-Yale football game.)

NOVEMBER 17: If You Care About the Climate, Pay Attention to Koch Cash

This article demonstrates how the Regulatory Studies Center at George Washington University has received millions in Koch and ExxonMobil funding and consequently used its academic credibility to undermine environmental protections through blatantly biased journal articles and public comments.

DECEMBER 2: How Climate Change Threatens Colleges Across the Country

The pandemic illuminated how poorly our institutions are prepared for a global disaster, whether it be from a virus or extreme weather events. To better understand these ongoing risks, we asked students from around the country to tell us how climate change has been impacting their campus, college experience, and communities.

DECEMBER 7: My Parents Collect Cans for a Living

This essay, produced in partnership with Youth Communication, movingly recounts the personal journey of one student whose parents work to bring cans and bottles to a recycling center. After keeping their job a secret from her peers for over a decade, she now sees honor in the work that helped her to go to college. “When people ask about my family now, I tell them not with embarrassment or shame but with pride.”

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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