2014 was a big year for college communities. Students got a little angry, a little fed up, and worked together to influence change. We saw young women rise up against sexual assault and put the spotlight on universities’ treatment of on-campus cases. We saw students take a stand against tuition hikes, against racism and unfair immigration policy. All in all, 2014 was the year of on-campus defiance. These are the 10 most riveting events that made it so.
Chicago district of the National Labor Relations Board recognized Northwestern University’s football players as employees under federal law, meaning they will create the first legal union of college athletes. Arguments for the change pointed to the use of players’ labor to generate billions of dollars. The College Athletes Players Association (CAPA) has a long list of demands such as guaranteed coverage of sports-related medical expenses and allowing players to pursue commercial sponsorships.
Last year, Miriam Weeks received a $47,000 bill from Duke University. After stories surfaced of the 18-year-old’s work in the porn industry, Weeks spoke openly with the media and explained she felt she had two choices: drown in student debt like the rest of us or find a way to pay the bills. Weeks makes no apologies. And that was the most empowering part of it all. Albeit unconventional, the “Duke porn star,” as the Internet came to call her, continues to pay her tuition via sex. But this year, because of her high income, Weeks is not eligible for financial aid, and her tuition has risen by $15,000.
Students at the University of Georgia held a rally at The Arch, the university’s historic symbol, and marched to university President Jere Morehead’s office in protest of the UGA’s policy on undocumented immigrant students. A lawsuit against the University System of Georgia Board of Regents claims the prohibition of undocumented students directly violates the board’s own policy, which promises in-state tuition to students who graduate with “legal presence.” Lawyers argue the language includes students who arrived in the United States at a young age.
“A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle For Justice at UVA,” written by Sabrina Rubin Erdely and published by Rolling Stone, sparked heavy debate about journalistic integrity and also universities’ handling of on-campus sexual abuse. The article recounted the story of Jackie, who was allegedly gang raped at University of Virginia’s Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house. The story continues to be scrutinized, as several media outlets, including The Washington Post, question the validity of the claims and the ethics of Erdely’s reporting. Not long after, an article in the Daily Beast recalled a similar story—Liz Seccuro writes, “I Was Gang Raped at a UVA Frat 30 Years Ago, and No One Did Anything.”
University of California students held a statewide campus walkout as part of the ongoing protests against significant tuition increases. Students at UC Berkeley occupied the campus’s Wheeler Hall after a committee voted to raise tuition 5 percent annually for five years. Reports say more than 1,000 students joined the protest at UC Berkeley.
A coalition which calls itself the “General Body” held a 15 day-sit-in protest in Crouse-Hinds Hall, the administrative building which houses the chancellor’s office at Syracuse. Students demanded more input on the chancellor’s many important decisions affecting the student body, and referred to a long list of issues they wanted open to discussion, including the closing of the Advocacy Center for rape victims. After two weeks of protests, students were met with copies of the code of student conduct, with the rules they were breaking highlighted—an act the students deemed an “intimidation tactic.”
Yik Yak, the app geared towards “hyper-local areas of people” (aka) college kids, allows users to post anonymous messages that can only be viewed by users within a 1.5 mile radius. Because anonymity and the Internet leads to cyber-bullying, Yik Yak has inspired generally offensive comments nationwide. Students at Colgate University held a four-day sit-in inspired in part by racist messages which appeared on the app. More than 300 students participated, using social media and the hashtags #CanYouHearUsNow and #ThisIsColgate to raise awareness about the treatment of minority students on campus.
The grand jury decision not to indict officer Darren Wilson for the death of Michael Brown inspired outrage and protests across campuses nationwide. One such campus was UNC. More than 200 students participated in the protests, after organizers disseminated the message, “Black Lives Matter.” UNC’s medical students also organized their own “die-ins” following the Eric Garner decision.
“The Machine,” a coalition of 28 white fraternities and sororities at UA, is reportedly a big part of the reason Greek system segregation has been hard to change. “The first rule of rush is you don’t talk about segregation to media. The second rule of rush is you don’t talk about segregation to media,” read the group’s Twitter after stories surfaced that a well-qualified black woman was denied a bid to more than one UA sorority because of race. After a year of controversy surrounding the allegations, the student government at UA finally voted for full integration of the campus’s Greek system. Because yes, it’s 2014.
Emma Sulkowicz, a student at Columbia University, carried a 50-pound mattress with her everywhere as a stand against sexual assault. Sulkowicz claimed she was sexually assaulted by a boy who still walks campus freely, despite two other sexual assault charges brought against him. For her “Carry That Weight” campaign, Sulkowicz used her mattress as a visual and powerful symbol for the heavy emotional burden she carries daily. A combination of protest and performance, the project inspired nationwide activism, eventually spiraling into a national movement against the treatment of sexual abuse cases on campus.