A college protest movement can be an important part of any overall movement to change society.

news flash

Pitzer College has announced it will divest its $125 million endowment of financial holdings in fossil fuel companies by the end of the year. The move makes Pitzer the first college in Southern California to commit to climate divestment, and the largest endowment in higher education to do so to date.

Congratulations to the student protesters who at least made this outcome more likely. Also:

University of Southern Maine President Theodora Kalikow on Friday rescinded the 12 faculty layoffs that had prompted weeks of protests, saying she’s open to alternative plans for finding up to $14 million in cuts.

Congratulations to the student protesters who at least made this outcome more likely.

So yeah. Something is happening!

Liminality and college experience — and why it’s important

In the ritual continuum of American life, college (by which I mean the experience of going to an institution and getting a degree after four years of coursework) is the site of what the anthropologist Victor Turner (1920-1983) called “liminoid” experience. (There’s also the term “liminal experience,” which Turner reserved for traditional situations.) In “liminoid” experience, the structural realities of other phases of human existence have been suspended, opening up the experience itself to possibilities of social invention. (This is not to say “unstructured” but, rather, “less structured” or, in Turner’s terms, containing “antistructure.”) College, then, is potentially an inventive time of life, full of youthful experimentation and exploration.

Here is how Turner characterized “liminal” and “liminoid” experience as such:

Yet in order to live, breathe, and to generate novelty, human beings have had to create – by structural means – spaces and times in the calendar or, in the cultural cycles of their most cherished groups which cannot be captured in the classificatory nets of their quotidian, routinized spheres of action. These liminal areas of times and space – rituals, carnivals, dramas, and latterly films – are open to the play of thought, feeling, and will; in them are generated new models, often fantastic, some of which may have sufficient power and plausibility to replace eventually the force-backed political and jural models that control the centers of a society’s ongoing life. (from The Ritual Process, p. vii)

“Liminoid” experiences, as such, are “between” experiences — they occur between the structural lived space which happened before the experience, and the structural lived space to be experienced afterward. College students, in particular, no longer live in the ritual spaces of adolescents, typically attending high school, but are not yet participants in the working life of college graduates, “earning a living” in what is tellingly called the “real world.” Not living in this “real world,” then, college students live in a ritual and experiential space open to something other than the “real world.” From From Ritual to Theatre:

Universities, institutes, colleges, etc., are ‘liminoid’ settings for all kinds of freewheeling, experimental cognitive behavior as well as forms of symbolic action, resembling some found in tribal society, like “rushing” and “pledging” ceremonies in American college fraternity and society houses, for example. (33)

Now, of course, college is more than a place of fraternity pledging — though Turner wanted to emphasize that college is a ritual frame of mind and that participants in college life (and particularly in fraternity and sorority life) constitute “tribes” in a certain sense. Colleges are potential sites for learning new things, doing innovative thinking, formative accomplishment, social and philosophical experimentation, and invention. Of course, to list the glorious things college could be is to paint an idealized picture — colleges can also be sites for sitting in classrooms for four years, passing tests and writing (often perfunctory) papers, getting diplomas, and entering the career world under the burden of a significant student loan debt.

Conclusion: College activism as an indicator of overall social potential

Given the role of college in the continuum of American life — as college students pivot from high school to postgraduate existence — a college protest movement can be an important part of any overall movement to change society. It’s easier to feel that one is “making a difference” when one is outside of the economic and political structures of the “real world” in which “difference-making” appears as such a daunting goal.

This is why little victories achieved by college students — as discussed above with Pitzer College and the University of Southern Maine — matter. If it can’t happen in college, it probably can’t happen in the “real world,” either.

also at Orange

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