Student Activism Today and In the Past: Joan Mandle

International Institute for Environment and Development

Chelsea Sookra and Lara Murray, Staff Writer and Contributing Writer |

Change is good. That’s what everyone keeps saying when we reach the end of something. They say we should be thankful for that change too. But what comes from that change that we should be thankful for? America’s history has played an incredible part in shaping us into who we are today. Students with an interest in government at Oneonta have the option of attending events to learn more, one of these events being Student Activism Today and In The Past;

The Democracy Matters Club hosted the event with speaker Dr. Joan Mandle, executive director of Democracy Matters since 2001 and retired professor of sociology and women’s studies at Colgate University. Mandle shared her experiences during the early civil rights movement, women’s movement, and the students’ movement during the 1960s, along with tips for students to get involved today. This is her sixth trip here to Oneonta. Dr. Mandle tells students she’s here to talk about her experience with Social Change and what students have done in terms of movements, especially today.

Dr. Mandle reminds us that the ’60s and ’70s were a time of great Social Movements, some of which were the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War Movement, and the Women Liberation Movement. But a secret movement also happened! An environmental movement in the 70’s called the first Earth Day, as well as the LGBTQ movement which started right in New York at a bar called the Stonewall Bar in 1969. It was certainly a time of enormous social formant and change. Each of these movements educated the public about discrimination and prejudice against women, LGBTQ, and African Americans. It was also this time that the Antiwar Movement took place. The movement not only ended the draft and the war but lowered the voting age from twenty-one to eighteen. How cool is that! The strategies of all these movements were quite similar. Their purpose was to not only get people to understand the problems but try to actually change the problems.

Mandle focused on three of these movements during her presentation: Civil Rights, Women’s Liberation, and the Students Movement. Dr. Mandle recalled being personally involved in the Civil Rights Movement, the Student Movement, and the Women’s Movement when she was a sophomore in college. She went on to reveal the involvement of young people, mostly students, in the Civil Rights Movement was the key to their success. In 1964, the Civil Rights organizations invited white students in the North to join them in the South. Their hope was to try building a society where we were equal, and the only way to make it happen was by working together. A group of students from the Civil Rights Movement called the Freedom Singers came to Dr. Mandle’s college, singing Civil Rights songs.

Their goal was to raise money for the South which was their way of keeping the Social Movement and Organization alive. Dr. Mandle went to one of their concerts and she loved it. She loved it so much that she called her parents and said she wanted to go to the South. She went back and forth about the topic until after her school year ended and she got on a plane and flew to Orange Persit, NC. Dr. Mandle became part of a student group that was trying to register as many African Americans as possible to vote.

The Student Movement was against the rules that colleges had set for students such as dress codes, curfews, and the classes they could take. Colleges had assumed “In Locus Parentis,” they were the parents outside of the home. Students wanted to be treated as adults and this synced up with the anti-war movement. Students felt they didn’t know much about what was going in the world during their classes and they couldn’t take classes to learn more because their curriculums were set for them. The Students for Democratic Society caused universities to revoke In Locus Parentis.

Women started realizing everything was led by men – even their own movement. They wanted equality, especially during the movements. Women left the Women’s Rights movement to create the Women’s Liberation movement. Women weren’t respected during presentations, in classes, in their careers. Men were allowed to do certain jobs and women weren’t.

These movements are still happening today, just differently. Activists wanted so much more but then got discouraged because the laws weren’t changing as much. We can even see that today with the BLM movement in June compared to today. Luckily, Mandle has faith in college students today. She knows we could make a difference today since we all believe in something; we just need to find a way to unify. Small changes lead to big outcomes and we could start that by registering to vote. Eighteen to twenty-five-year-olds have the lowest voter turnout. We could start seeing change if we start voting. It’s a long road to get to where we want to go, but we keep traveling with hope in mind.

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