Students Who Want to Improve KPU Should Look to the New Left Movement for Inspiration

In the ‘60s and ‘70s, student activists used collective action to change post-secondary priorities; we can do it again

(Kristen Frier)

It’s no secret among KPU students that our university is a lacking a strong on-campus community. I remember meeting a student who attended class here for a semester, and after telling her I currently go to KPU she immediately asked me, “Did you make any friends?”

I ran solo throughout my first semester, mostly because there aren’t many spaces on campus for students to connect with each other outside of class. I had to deliberately seek those spaces out, and once I found the Creative Writing Guild and began working at Pulp Magazine, my identity as a student began to mean so much more to me. Now, the time I spend outside of class is when I make friends, explore my learning on a personal level, and gain a sense of fulfillment by contributing to the community.

The stark difference in the quality of my school experience between having these sorts of experiences and not having them makes me question the value of a school system that prioritizes pumping out degrees for profit instead of fostering an enriching student life. And I think it’s important to note that our generation isn’t the first to feel this way.

In the ‘60s and ‘70s, students across North America fought to reorient the interests and priorities of their universities in a movement that became known as the “New Left.” The Port Huron Statement, a manifesto written by student activists in Port Huron, Michigan, decries the state of universities at the time and envisions how they could be better.

Among many points listed in the manifesto was the students’ belief that they deserved to learn in an environment where they were encouraged to explore their personal identities and means of intellectual fulfillment, instead of only being rewarded for rigorous academic achievement. They argued that universities had a duty to the community and a larger role to play in society than merely acting as an isolated institution whose only goal is to earn a profit.

Many students and faculty members from post-secondary institutions in the Lower Mainland were involved in the New Left movement. They helped establish the Vancouver Women’s Caucus, which organized a nationwide mobilization to secure women’s rights to abortion, and also created a Community Education and Research Centre. These students acted on their dissatisfaction and gathered together to change their universities and their school experience.

KPU students can do the exact same thing today. From what I hear from my classmates, not only do most of us want changes to occur in our university, but there are also people out there with ideas about how to do it. Sadly, few of them have the time to execute their ideas.

Personally, I have been trying for the past three semesters to start a divestment initiative to urge our university to invest in renewable energy instead of fossil fuels, but repeatedly find that I have no time while I’m also taking five classes.

We are hindered by full or part-time course-loads, and many of us also have to balance work and some semblance of a personal life at the same time. It’s understandable that we are not always able to engage with and attempt to change our university, but we still have to try. We have a unique opportunity as students to reform our university and make it prioritize us as scholars and intellectuals instead of prioritizing the profit it makes as a business.

As the Port Huron Statement suggests, students gathering together to make change is one of the best opportunities to create a stronger school community and gain purpose in our lives as students.