Most people’s view of student activism derives from the late 1960s where it is associated with youthful Marxist idealism about social revolution, the anti-Vietnam War movement, women’s liberation and US Black civil rights struggles. Yet what is not as familiar to most people is that social justice movements continued within student organizations after the 1960s—although these were more ‘institutionalized’ and without the overt critique of capitalism associated with the Canadian Union of Students (CUS) of the 1960s. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the primary focus of the national student organization was on cuts to postsecondary education and the social class issues of accessibility and student assistance. But there were many activists within the national student organization that had additional priorities, most prominently women students’ who called for women’s rights and equality (Moses 2010). Challenges to other forms of oppression were slower to emerge. But by the late 1970s, gay and lesbian students had asserted their concerns and established a caucus in the national student organization; by the early 1980s, challenging oppression in its many forms became a much higher priority in the national student organization. Among these challenges is the one I wish to focus here: the development of antiracist organizing. Although there have been several studies which focus on the relation of the “New Left” and youth movements, primarily in the 1960s (see Kostash 1980, Levitt 1984, Owram 1996 for example), there has been virtually no discussion of the articulation and emergence of an antiracist movement on campus and in Canadian student organizations.
The proposed study brings together and draws upon two main fields of study: studies of antiracism in social movement organizations and historical studies of Canadian student organizations. We propose to explore the development and emergence of antiracist activism among postsecondary students and in Canada’s national student organization, the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), from 1981 to 1995.
Scope and objectives of the study
While a few studies have been conducted on antiracism in women’s (Agnew, 1996; George et al, 2006; Nadeau, 2005, 2009; Shaikh, 2013), environmental (Gardner, 2003; Srivastava, 2002), and labour (Ng, 2010) organizations in the post-1980 period, no such studies on student activism have been done. Student organizations appear to be an important location of antiracist organizing, yet they have received scant scholarly attention. Hence, the main objective of this research is not only to write a history of student activism but also to do so from the unique perspective of students of colour and antiracism.
The main objective of a preliminary study is to map-out the major contours of antiracist movements as they appear at the national level; that is, in the organization documents of the CFS and in select student newspapers in preparation for a larger multidisciplinary national project involving closer study of select local campuses.
The purpose of the study is to undertake a critical analysis of archival documents to map the social organization of opposition, resistance and transformation (Kinsman, 2006) of social actors committed to contesting racism, sexism and other forms of oppression in national student organizations. I will use the funding to seed a preliminary review and analysis of Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) organization documents and select (online) student newspapers.