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Survey Explores College Students’ Beliefs, Activism

Nearly six in 10 college students would protest publicly for a cause they care about, according to a survey conducted over the last three weeks that highlighted college students’ beliefs surrounding political, social and environmental issues.

The National Society of Leadership and Success, which conducted the poll, is the nation’s largest leadership honor society where students are selected by their institutions based on their leadership potential or academic standing, according to their website.

Charles KnippenCharles Knippen

Of the 3,500 students who participated in “The 2018 NSLS Student Activism Survey,” almost 59 percent stated that they would publicly protest for a cause that they cared about.

“I believe that life is too short to let what you think stay in your head,” said survey participant Mikela Short.

Participating students labeled affordable education, race relations, gun-related issues, workplace gender equality and climate change among the most important issues in today’s society.

“I think the most interesting part to me is the one that impacts them the most, educational opportunities for everyone,” said NSLS President Charles Knippen. “That part wasn’t a surprise to me because every single one of them is living it. These are all current college students, they are all being saddled with that debt that you get from going to college, they are going through that process of trying to figure out what they want to do with their careers and how they actually make it affordable.”

For the survey, NSLS reached out to students who have been inducted into their leadership development program within the past year. It is a five-step program where students discuss and hold each other accountable for their goals, attend speaker lectures, participate in leadership training days and take online assessments that focus on developing communication skills.

“We wanted to get a better understanding of how active the students would be, what gets them going and what gets their heart pumping,” said Knippen. “To what length would they go out and actually participate and actually be engaged in that process of activism towards a cause that they are passionate about?”

Though the majority of survey participants stated that they would publicly protest for a cause, Knippen thought the number would be higher.

“I was [shocked by the results] actually,” said Knippen. “I thought it would be higher in terms of how activism goes. But for students, they have a lot going on in their lives and for a lot of them, maybe it’s not that thing that they are that passionate about or that they don’t see a direct impact on them. And you know the challenge for us, the people that are teaching them leadership, is to get them to act on the things that they are passionate about, to identify those things that they are passionate about and to get out there to make a difference on those issues and in their communities.”

Additionally, the survey focused on the current political climate in the United States with nearly 57 percent of students labeling it as negative while 14 percent found it to be positive. Around 44 percent believed the country is too divided, resulting in extremist behavior from both parties; 25 percent noted that they had never felt worse about the political scene within the U.S., according to the survey.

“I think students of all backgrounds and cultures have the ability to change anything and everything,” said survey participant William Chamberlain. “I have read from multiple sources that people in my generation, meaning millennials, are part of the information age. Any answer we could ever want is right at our fingertips. I believe that this breeds an understanding of each other. Although there are still issues with racism, police brutality, discrimination against everyone not heterosexual and so many other issues, I feel that we as people are moving towards an age of understanding of all people.”

Sarah Wood can be reached at [email protected].

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