November 07, 2015

Campus protests: struggle and safety This post is a result of frustration with Todd Gitlin's editorial in today's NYT. I can't stand his self-serving invocation of '68. No student protests or radical political efforts since '68 ever measure up to his rosy-tinted glory days and he is always happy to tell us why. This time it is because the protesters are complaining about vulnerability and movements don't win unless people are strong. Gitlin's basic move is bizarre: the students at Missouri won. Their football team put their economic power in the university to work as political power. Students all over the country this week put their universities on notice, occupied spaces, opening up another round of discussions of racism in colleges and universities . This doesn't seem like a story well-described with a headline about protesters' fear. That said, the rhetoric of safe spaces, vulnerability, and civility does seem part of the current moment. Why? Gitlin too quickly dismisses political economic considerations -- the enormity of student debt, diminished economic prospects, loss of rewarding work, and intensified financial insecurity facing this generation of students. He notes, only to discard, the surveillance part of contemporary life. I think these political economic factors are more important than Gitlin allows. They establish the terms through which the students are voicing their critique. Students frame their opposition in a language of safety and vulnerability because that is the language available to them after forty years of neoliberalism and in the second decade of the war on terror. The new...

Jodi Dean

Jodi Dean is a political theorist.

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