Disruptive protesters should be 'celebrated,' admin says

Toni Airaksinen
New York Campus Correspondent

  • The Director of LGBTQI Life at Vanderbilt University says college administrators should directly encourage student protests, even those that involve disrupting university functions.
  • Categorizing protests as either "burner" or "builder" activism, Chris Purcell argues that "burner" protests are sometimes needed "to get the job done," after which administrators can "pursue building strategies."
  • The Director of LGBTQI Life at Vanderbilt University recently argued that student protesters should be “celebrated,” even if they stage sit-ins or disrupt university functions.

    In an essay for Inside Higher Ed last week, Chris Purcell argues that college administrators should celebrate, reward, and support all student activists, asserting that “no matter the issue or side of the political or philosophical spectrum, it is the commonly understood role of administrators to work with students to support activism.”

    "No matter the issue or side of the political or philosophical spectrum, it is the commonly understood role of administrators to work with students to support activism."   

    [RELATED: Prof urges colleagues to promote ‘progressive politics’ in class]

    Student activism falls into two categories, Purcell writes: “burner” and “builder” activism.

    Burner activism, he explains, seeks to “burn down” oppressive structures, such as by “taking over the offices of campus leaders, shutting down streets, [and] holding sit-ins.”

    Builder activism, on the other hand, seeks to “build new structures that work differently (often more inclusively) for one particular group of students,” and can include creating new student groups or demanding that the school become more equitable.

    Purcell argues that both forms of activism “are essential for forward progress,” and “should be celebrated and supported.”

    [RELATED: Cal State ‘activism labs’ teach students new protest tactics]

    Further, he argues that there may be times when it is useful for administrators to encourage students to engage in “burner activism,” like holding sit-ins or occupying the offices of other college administrators.

    “[W]hen oppressive structures stand in the way of creating equitable campus environments, it may be useful to solely encourage burning strategies for students to get the job done,” Purcell writes. That way, “administrators can be ready to pursue building strategies when the figurative ashes are clear.”

    Purcell, writing in a publication whose target audience is college professors and administrators, concludes by noting that support for student activism is much needed.

    “It is our job to encourage this quest for justice, even if it challenges our power and our comfort,” he concludes.

    [RELATED: Study: Social justice activism is ‘rife’ with ‘oppression’]

    Purcell is the Director of the Office for LGBTQI Life at Vanderbilt, which offers resources including pronoun guidance, resources for professor who want to teach “beyond the gender binary,” and programs to “recognize oppression, privilege, and the ways they impact marginalized communities.”

    Campus Reform reached out to Purcell for comment, but did not receive a response in time for publication.

    Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen





    Toni Airaksinen

    Toni Airaksinen

    New York Campus Correspondent
    Toni Airaksinen is a New York Campus Correspondent, where she reports on free speech issues and social justice research. She is a senior at Barnard College, majoring in Urban Studies and Environmental Science. She is also a columnist for PJ Media, and formerly held a post with USA TODAY College, The Columbia Spectator, and Quillette.
    More By Toni Airaksinen

    Campus Profiles

    Latest 20 Articles