Top 10 Activist Schools

Our fifth annual roundup of activism on campus

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Last January, when UCLA released its annual nationwide survey of incoming college freshmen, the media bemoaned the students’ declining interest in activism. But in our fifth annual survey of the same, we found several hopeful examples that prove activism and community service are alive and well on campus.

1 Duke University, Durham, N.C. (1); (6,200); $23,000; 45% On March 8, Duke announced a new policy guaranteeing that the school would no longer license its logo to manufacturers who operate sweatshops. The policy, proposed by the Duke chapter of Students Against Sweatshops, ensures that licensees set a minimum working age for their employees, recognize their workers’ right to organize, and agree to yearly unannounced factory visits by a Duke-sponsored inspector.

2 Spelman College, Atlanta, Ga. (1); (1,900); $10,500; 85% Spelman’s long-standing tradition of activism includes a student mentoring program that pairs first-graders from an Atlanta housing project with Spelman freshmen. Students remain mentors until graduation.

3 University of Texas, Austin (1); (37,000); $7,000; 45% Last fall, when law professor Lino Graglia told reporters that black and Mexican American students couldn’t compete academically with whites at “selective institutions,” almost 5,000 students attended a protest rally led by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, and hundreds of students occupied the law school demanding disciplinary action. Graglia issued a conciliatory statement, and the law school’s dean said he would “consider sympathetically” any request by a UT law student to opt out of Graglia’s required constitutional law class.

4 University of Wisconsin, Madison (5); (25,621); $5,500; 40% When GOP Gov. Tommy Thompson appointed a new member to the university’s board of regents who had contributed $10,000 (the maximum allowed) to his campaign, students decided to call for campaign finance reform by “buying” a seat for their own candidate. They collected a quarter from each UW student, raising more than $1,000—not enough to buy a regent, but enough to fund an effort calling for elected regents.

5 Roxbury Community College, Boston, Mass. (1); (2,800); $1,900; 70% Last May, a number of students calling themselves the May 6th Movement at this inner-city college presented Roxbury president Grace Brown with a list of 18 demands, including such basic supplies as copy paper and library books. Unconvinced by her assurances that RCC would address the problems, eight members of the group then took over an administrative office for 30 hours. The college resolved the protest peacefully and agreed to meet 15 of the demands, including the students’ request to improve financial aid.

6 College of the Atlantic, Bar Harbor, Maine (1); (265); $18,000; 63% Last fall, students at this small college at the edge of Acadia National Park developed a proposal prohibiting the school from doing business with companies that trade with Burma. The school adopted the policy and subsequently rejected an attractive bid for new computers from Acer Computer because of its business ties with that country’s dictatorship.

7 James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Va. (1); (12,000); $9,000; 68% Starting last year, JMU students organized 15 “alternative breaks.” Instead of relaxing during Thanksgiving, winter, and spring breaks, students traveled to Appalachia to conduct a health survey, to New Orleans to work at an AIDS hospice, and even to Uganda to build houses.

8 University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (5); (15,000); $11,200; 40% UNC’s Nike Awareness Campaign, started by junior Marion Traub-Werner in response to the university’s proposed $7 million deal with Nike, prompted UNC’s chancellor to establish a labor standards task force and helped bring Nike CEO Phil Knight to the campus to listen to student recommendations regarding the company’s overseas labor record.

9 Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wis. (3); (7,500); $15,400; 90% More than 2,400 students—a third of the campus—participated in the school’s “Hunger Cleanup” last year. Sponsored by their friends and relatives, the volunteers did everything from repainting homeless shelters to taking senior citizens to the zoo. The event raised approximately $16,000, which a student committee distributed to five Greater Milwaukee social service agencies.

10 Little Big Horn College, Crow Agency, Mont. (1); (200); $1,700; 98% Students at this two-year tribal college, started in 1980, design their own volunteer projects for the community around them—the Crow reservation they grew up on and still live on. In 1997, education majors began tutoring Crow children at a nearby elementary school to reduce school failure rates. In another case, several bilingual business majors took a class to become certified tax preparers and filed returns for tribe members who do not speak English.


Key: (years on our list); (total full-time undergraduate enrollment); in-state tuition and fees; percentage of students who receive financial aid


The following organizations participated in the poll: American Civil Liberties Union; Amnesty International; Anti-Defamation League; Campus Ecology (National Wildlife Federation); Campus Outreach Opportunity League; Center for Campus Organizing; Center for Global Education; Habitat for Humanity International; National Abortion Rights Action League; National Gay and Lesbian Task Force; National Organization for Women; National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness; Oxfam America; Peace Corps; People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals; Planned Parenthood; Sierra Student Coalition; Student Coalition for Action in Literacy Education; Student Environmental Action Coalition; United States Student Association; Zero Population Growth.


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