EDITOR’S NOTE: With thanks to the Seattle Globalist, where a version of this article originally appeared.
Last year, when Palca Shibale was a junior at the University of Washington, she started going to meetings of Reclaim UW, a coalition fighting for better treatment of campus employees.
The students in the group fought hard for better wages and benefits for TAs and janitors throughout the school year, even disrupting a meeting of the UW Regents in April 2015 to amplify their demands.
But by the end of the spring quarter, they were burned out. And when classes began the following fall, Reclaim UW had lost much of its member participation.
This is exactly what Shibale said she does not want to see happen to Decolonize UW, a new activist group on campus that formed this past year around a six-hour student walkout to press the administration to address systemic racism on campus.
“Sometimes there are gaps within activism and if you don’t have something that’s sustainable, it can die very quickly.”
So when Shibale graduated in June, she wanted to make sure there was a plan to keep the momentum going with Decolonize UW.
“What happens when we graduate and haven’t left anybody behind? People come up and they have to start from ground zero. It keeps the movement [stagnant],” Shibale said. “Sometimes there are gaps within activism and if you don’t have something that’s sustainable, it can die very quickly.”
Student organizing has high turnover by nature. Students typically stay for four years—sometimes only two when they transfer from a community college—and then they graduate. Fewer students are on campus during summer quarters, which can create a lull in student activism.
Theresa Earenfight, director of the Medieval Studies Program and a history professor at Seattle University, says she believes this is what administrators at her university are counting on—that the summer will provide relief from the pressure placed on them by the MRC Student Coalition. That’s the group of students who occupied the Matteo Ricci College administrative office for three weeks this spring demanding a radical change to the curriculum of the humanities department.
“They count on short memories and a summer of sunshine to make the sit-in fade,” Earenfight wrote in an e-mail.
On June 2, the 22nd day of the sit-in in the Matteo Ricci College office, Interim Provost Bob Dullea announced that one of the MRC Student Coalition main demands would be met: Dean Jodi Kelly was put on administrative leave. The following day the coalition announced that it was ending the sit-in, and had formed a review committee to critically analyze and reimagine the college’s curriculum in cooperation with the administration.