The next two weeks look set to offer further evidence that, contrary to common perceptions, student activism is alive and well.
Repeated comments in the media suggest that today’s students are apathetic and apolitical. Many of the people who produce these remarks often seem to have little contact with actual students. Not only did student activism never die, but it has experienced something of a revival in the last couple of years.
Later today, I’ll be off to the annual conference of the Student Christian Movement (SCM). While this has been a yearly trip for me since I was on the SCM staff (I left eight years ago), this will be the biggest SCM event I’ve ever attended. The turnout is set to be the highest in well over a decade.
Activism will be a major focus of the conference this year. The Movement has a reputation for combining meaningful theological reflection with practical social action, while emphasising that each needs the other – something we’re keen on at Ekklesia, of course.
Only a few days after SCM conference, I’ll be off to Lancaster University, whose students have kindly invited me to speak in a debate about the University’s links with the arms company, BAE Systems. This will be part of the national Student Day of Action Against the Arms Trade on Wednesday, 24 February.
Students will use the day to promote campaigns against arms company funding for universities (more common than most of us would like to think), universities’ shares in the arms trade (some have already been sold in response to campaigning) and the presence of arms dealers at universities’ careers fairs.
A few days later, the Speak Network will hold a weekend event, followed by their own Day of Action. Speak is a broadly evangelical network for students and young adults engaging in activism and prayer for social change. On Monday, 1 March, they will protest outside UK Trade and Investment (UKTI), which runs what amounts to a taxpayer-funded marketing agency for private arms companies.
Given how many of these groups and actions are Christian-based, or have a Christian input, it seems that Christian students may be able to teach the wider Church quite a lot about both political activism and socially relevant theology – not to mention the link between the two.