Jaspers Use their Voices: the Evolution of Activism at MC 

By Jocelyn Visnov, Production Editor/Web Editor

From worldwide conflicts to minor disputes over campus policies, Jaspers have come together to express their views and show their support in a variety of different ways. As the physical campus has changed over the past 100 years, so has the way in which students express their opinions on important topics and decisions.

Before officially becoming a co-ed institution in 1973, MC was home to only male students seeking a Catholic education. This campus demographic created a more traditionally conservative leaning on campus in the early 60s and 70s. 

Despite the politics of one group of students versus another, students and faculty alike expressed their views on the Vietnam war in both educational and social formats. 

Amy Surak, director of archives and special collections at MC, explained a story from an MC alum about opposing views being expressed on campus. 

“One of the alumni told me a story on how literally in the morning they had a guest lecturer here who was giving a lecture on the war, pro war, and why we should be in Vietnam,” she said. “And then in the afternoon, you had a small group of protesters who were protesting the fact that this person came to speak.” 

Surak explained that while views of worldly conflicts and politics were discussed on campus, Jaspers at the time focused their activism mainly on campus and community policies. One issue which caused a stir among students included strict rules regarding a campus curfew. 

After one student received permission from a Brother to leave campus for the night to attend a ball game upstate, a change of plans led him to return to campus long after the 10 p.m. curfew. However, because the student had received permission to be gone overnight, he was turned away and unable to access his dorm. 

“This poor kid got basically expelled out of college for something so minor,” Surak said, “So there was so much activism about this injustice that the students literally protested on campus. But because we were on Broadway at the time, students laid in the streets in protest to block the street and cause a stir. It was such a minor infraction, but to some extent, it was the students sort of flexing their muscles. And so they ended up being very successful in their protest.” 

As the college expanded and relocated to its current location in Riverdale, the needs of the student body expanded as well. 

Surak explained that students gained more of a voice on campus with the formation of the student government. Allowing a few Jaspers to represent the voice of the student body in places such as Senate meetings provided administrators with a more clear understanding of the views of the students. 

In the late 90s, one major concern brought to the attention of the Senate by student government was the campus policy on sex. While previously an unspoken rule, a Brother at the time created a written rule for students which aligned with the traditionally Catholic belief that “sex should only happen within the confines of marriage.” 

The student body brought this concern to the Senate, stating that they felt this was a step backwards which did not align with other more progressive campus policies at the time.

Over the course of the past 100 years, student activism has gone beyond protests and policies, and grown more in the direction of community service and advocacy. 

One way in which activism on campus has expanded includes the creation of offices and organizations which aim to better address the needs and concerns of the present student body. This includes a plethora of diverse organizations such as the Black Student Union, Jasper Votes,  Lasallian Women and Gender Center, Green Club, Jewish Student Union and the Campus Ministry and Social Action (CMSA) suite. 

Connor Reidy, the Campus Minister of CMSA, explained his admiration for the ways in which advocacy on campus has expanded even just over the past decade.

“I’ve been really impressed with the consistency in which our school and student body have focused on certain elements of activism.” Reidy said. “Like our work as a Fair Trade certified University. If I were to really focus on areas that I think I’ve seen students be consistently concerned with over the course of my nine years [working at MC], I’ve always seen our students be really concerned about immigration reform and immigration policy. It’s one of the most complicated areas of our international and domestic foreign policy and I think students see how it affects our neighbors and community right here in New York City.” 

With the creation of these specialized organizations including CMSA, students are able to express their views on topics they care most about even beyond campus. In more recent years, CMSA has led L.O.V.E Immersion programs to locations such as the United States/Mexico border, El Paso, Texas, and Philadelphia. 

Jacquie Martin, a Coordinator of Social Action, explained that in addition to larger initiatives around activism and social justice, Jaspers have also remained active in promoting social justice throughout campus itself. 

“I think some of the stuff the Women’s Center has done that has been like student-led projects after the center was created was ensuring that there are gender neutral restrooms on our campus only in the past few years.” She said, “But students advocating to have, like pads and tampons, accessible [and] free in campus bathrooms, that wasn’t a thing up until recently.”

Jaspers have a long history of rallying together on issues which they care about most, and expressing their concerns to address the changing student body. Current students looking to become engaged in activism and social justice are recommended to reach out to various campus clubs or organizations for social justice and community service opportunities.