Activists need better planning before protesting
At the Olin Business School’s Career Fair and company presentations two weeks ago, the usual sights and sounds of well-dressed students learning about and pitching themselves to potential employers were interrupted by the coughing and shouting of individuals protesting Bank of America’s support and funding for mountaintop removal coal mining.
On Student Life’s website, the protests—from the initial news article to the various op-ed pieces it spawned—have been the most-discussed issue since the highly divisive Sigma Alpha Epsilon and Bristol Palin controversies of the past few years. If the protesters’ goal was to spark discussion on campus, they succeeded.
But was campus discussion the main motive? Such an end result has little practical purpose other than possibly informing students about BoA’s practices, but with many students understandably worried about finding employment after graduation, they are likely not to be dissuaded from a potential job based on any new information.
Even if they were, that decision should be up to them. The objective of anyone attending a career fair is to leave a lasting impression on recruiters, but after this event, BoA’s representatives are likely to remember not names and faces of potential employees but rather the protesters’ coughing and falling over. In essence, the activists may have taken it upon themselves to make a unilateral moral decision for every attendee in search of a job.
If campus discussion was not the chief goal, it follows that the intended result of the protests was for BoA to take notice. But so far, the bank hasn’t paid any attention to what happened at one recruiting event on one campus—at least, it hasn’t released any statement or revised any of its policies indicating as much.
The apparent lack of a clear goal is perhaps the most puzzling aspect of the protests. Why protest to recruiters, who have no say over the bank’s loaning practices? Moreover, why was BoA the sole target when energy companies with controversial practices, such as Ameren, also manned booths at the fair?
It is heartening to see people on campus caring about issues when our student body is so often criticized for being apathetic. Thirty-five people protesting at a career fair event doesn’t make us the University of California, Berkeley, but it’s a start.
However, it’s worrying to see the quantity and vitriol of backlash toward the activists, continuing a pattern we saw during the plastic bag ban debate last year. If environmentalists want to effect change—which we encourage, to be sure—squandering any built-up goodwill on protests that would seem to have little possibility of inciting that change is a flawed practice.
Social activism is an uphill battle anywhere, particularly on our campus, and it would behoove future protestors to pick their spots to spark real change, not just upset B-schoolers looking for employment.