Why student walkouts deserve more attention


Aarushi Bahadur

STAND UP. 2022 started with protests on a myriad of topics but where were the people listening to student voice?

Hundreds of students streamed into the parking lot at Central High School earlier this month, demanding the Minneapolis Police Department reevaluate their SWAT practices and no-knock warrants. Three weeks prior, St. Paul students across multiple schools met to request more KN-95 masks, COVID-19 tests for staff and students and firm guidelines for possible online transitions. This isn’t just localized to the Twin Cities, though. School walk-outs are sweeping the country, as students protest gun violence, racism, policing, COVID safety standards and other pressing issues. And though walk-outs have regained prominence in recent years, walkouts have been happening since the late 1950s and early 1960s. Some have even changed history. So why are the calls for the safety and justice of students today being met with silence?
The classic arguments against student activism include that a walkout is merely a convenient excuse to blow off classes, or that students are merely the pawns of teachers’ unions. The concept that students have insight into the world around them equal to that of adults has often been brushed aside. After the Jan. 18 walkout, the board of Saint Paul Public Schools announced that it wouldn’t move school online, like the students had hoped, only utilizing a new metric to determine when schools should make the switch.
While the SPPS holding a meeting was a good first step, it lacked something valuable: student voices. Once again, when the decision was being made, there were no students or advocates for their desires present, despite students being the ones primarily affected by the decision present. And in regards to students wanting to skip classes or only being pawns in a larger scheme beyond their grasp, two points must be raised. First, the majority of students are there to support the cause, and many often get permission to attend in advance or come with premade signs. The dedication behind these walkouts is much more than a couple of students deciding to skip classes. Besides, not all walkouts occur during a scheduled period during school hours. Secondly, while adults may help organize events, it’s mainly students hosting, planning, and speaking at walkouts. The students are taking initiative, with their own actions and words, to draw attention to something that they feel strongly about, not anyone else.
Walkouts have left large prints on history–The Children’s Crusade of 1963 and the East L.A. Walkouts in 1968, for example–proving that they can garner massive amounts of attention that can help solve societal issues, if not in the present, then in the future. But when students are the minds behind walkouts yet don’t end up influencing any decisions brought about by the attention they may have garnered, what was achieved?
If change is to come about in the world, it’s going to be the next generation pushing it. If positive change has come about through student activism in the past, why isn’t it happening today?

This story was updated Sept. 18.