Our big twenty champs, ’76-’96


During the anti-war ’60s, schools like the University of California at Berkeley set the standard for campus activism. But as protests against the Vietnam War gave way to the no-nukes movement of the ’70s and the anti-apartheid demonstrations of the ’80s, campus activism diversified. Today, on the heels of the budget cutbacks of the Reagan-Bush era, students are showing a new spirit of activism and community service. To celebrate Mother Jones‘ 20th anniversary, our third annual list of the country’s top activist campuses includes schools that have, for the past 20 years, pioneered social action and consistently generated students who remain committed to public affairs issues after graduation. Two dozen philanthropic and activist groups nominated schools; we tallied their votes and took it from there. The top 20, listed alphabetically:

Brown University, Providence, R.I. (7,500 students) Community service is a tradition at Brown, and the school encourages students to make careers of it. Since 1981, Brown has annually awarded $2,500 fellowships to freshmen and transfer students committed to social change.

University of California, Los Angeles (32,000) The Latino rights movement at UCLA dates back to the 1960’s fights for civil rights. Students marched with Cesar Chavez and his United Farm Workers and demanded that administrators bring in ethnic studies and minority professors. Most recently, they’ve led the charge against the anti-immigrant and anti-affirmative action backlash sweeping California.

University of California, Santa Cruz (9,500) In 1974, students and professors founded the women’s studies program, one of the nation’s oldest. “It was so inspiring and empowering,” says Tracye Lea Lawson, a ’79 graduate who publishes a feminist newspaper in Santa Cruz. “We ran the program.” Professors at UCSC taught rape prevention and women’s self-defense long before the subjects were in vogue.

University of Colorado, Boulder (25,000) A longtime leader in the anti-nuke fight, it’s also a pioneer in environmental activism, which includes an innovative campus recycling program. Started in 1976 by students who collected newspapers and cans, CU Recycling has grown into a student-administration partnership, diverting about 40 percent of the university’s waste from landfills.

Columbia University, New York (20,200) As early as 1981, Columbia students were demanding that the university get its investments out of South Africa, then under apartheid rule. Their protests triggered the divestment movement at schools across America, climaxing in 1985 with dramatic sit-ins and strikes. Student pressure at schools around the country led to divestments of more than $4 billion.

Hendrix College, Conway, AK. (950) In 1986, Hendrix students spearheaded a movement to increase their school’s purchase of food from local farmers. Thanks to their efforts, the school’s supply of food from Arkansas farmers and manufacturers jumped from less than 10 percent to about 60 percent. Today, the Hendrix model has caught on at other colleges.

Humboldt State University, Arcata, CA. (7,000) Graduating seniors promise “to investigate and take into account the social and environmental consequences of any job” they consider. The voluntary pledge, based on a vow made by technology students at the University of Zagreb more than 25 years ago, started at HSU in 1987. It quickly spread to dozens of colleges around the country.

Manchester College, Manchester, IN. (1,000) A small school with a big impact. The college founded the nation’s oldest peace studies department in 1948, just after the birth of the United Nations. Since then, peace studies majors have flocked to the Peace Corps, the World Policy Institute, and a host of community organizations.

Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI. (10,700) Living by the Jesuit principle of cura personalis — care for the person — Marquette students join a volunteer tradition dating back several decades. The school encourages them to assist seniors and disabled adults; work in hospitals; visit jail inmates; and volunteer for “Midnight Run,” feeding local homeless adults and children.

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (25,400) The school has spawned national grassroots organizations including the Student Environmental Action Coalition and the Student Coalition for Action in Literacy Education. Most recently, UNC students have joined the university’s 400 embattled housekeepers who are fighting to increase their poverty-level wages.

University of Oregon, Eugene (17,100) For 14 years, Oregon’s law students have hosted the annual Public Interest Environmental Law Conference, an international gathering of activists, attorneys, biologists, and bureaucrats who share strategies on dozens of local and global environmental issues.

Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA. (14,000) Each school year, in a program run by the English department and Stanford’s Haas Center for Public Service, hundreds of freshmen write brochures, fact sheets, and newsletters for local AIDS awareness groups, environmental organizations, women’s shelters, and museums.

Suny/Cuny (State Universities of New York/City Universities of New York) (588,700) Collectively, schools in the 64-campus SUNY and 19-campus CUNY systems garnered more votes than any others on our list. Student action helped develop minority and women’s studies programs in the ’70s and ’80s; in the ’90s, students have headed off — or at least reduced — drastic budget cuts.

Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, PA. (1,300) Swarthmore students have helped residents in poor, predominantly black Chester, Pa., rehabilitate run-down houses and convert vacant lots into playgrounds. Now, students are helping them fight to keep the state’s largest trash incinerator from operating in their backyard.

University of Tennessee, Knoxville (25,000) In a scary flashback to the ’70s, UT students are battling the nearby Watts Bar nuclear power plant and its debt-ridden parent, the Tennessee Valley Authority. Watts Bar went online in January — 23 years after construction began and easily $6.5 billion over budget. Recently, students staged a bake sale to “help” pay off the plant’s debt. They raised $12.

Tufts University, Medford, MA. (8,000) Students, professors, administrators, and operations workers brought individual “greening” efforts together to form a comprehensive, university-wide environmental policy. Professors and administrators from all disciplines learn how to integrate environmentalism into their courses and university purchasing decisions.

Warren Wilson College, Asheville, NC. (570) This tiny liberal arts school ranks social service right up there with academic study. Ahead of its time, Warren Wilson has required community service as a condition of graduation for more than 35 years.

Whitman College, Walla Walla, WA. (1,250) New students get “bust cards” from the campus ACLU chapter: The wallet-size cards spell out their rights in case they’re ever arrested. Students host forums on civil rights issues and have developed a proposal to ensure their privacy, freedom of access, and freedom of expression in cyberspace.

University of Wisconsin, Madison (40,000) It’s no surprise that Madison has made it onto our list every year. Madison has sent more alums to the Peace Corps in the past 20 years than any other university in America, with volunteers teaching small-business management in Eastern Europe, health education in Latin America, and life-sustaining agriculture in Africa.

Yale University, New Haven, CT. (10,000) Yale students may well hold the record for community service. Last year, at least half the student body worked in local soup kitchens, assisted Yale clerical and maintenance workers in union negotiations, tutored children, or participated in the other 70 or so programs at Dwight Hall, the nation’s oldest university-based volunteer center.

Sources: American Civil Liberties Union; Amnesty International, USA; Anti-Defamation League; Boys and Girls Clubs of America; David Brower, Earth Island Institute; Campus Compact; Campus Outreach Opportunity League; Center for Campus Organizing; Habitat for Humanity; Paul Rogat Loeb, author, Generation at the Crossroads; National Coalition for the Homeless; National Council of La Raza; National Organization for Women; National Rainbow Coalition; National Student News Service; National Wildlife Federation’s Campus Ecology; Peace Corps; Sierra Club; Student Coalition for Action in Literacy Education; Student Environmental Action Coalition; U.S. Student Association; Miriam Weinstein, author, Making a Difference College Guide; Youth Vote ’96; Zero Population Growth.