Exploring Civil Disobedience: A History of Social Movements for College Students

The world has been reshaped by numerous movements that rewrote the future. College students must know about them in detail and especially the most key event – civil disobedience.

Civil disobedience in the US started in 1849 but its climax was in the 1960s. In 1849, H.D. Thoreau refused to pay a poll tax. He was opposing slavery in the US and spending on the America-Mexico war.

Another wave of civil disobedience started in the 1950s and climaxed in the 1960s. The King leader of the movement was Martin Luther King Jr. They were fighting for equal rights and justice for black Americans. Many college students joined Martin Luther King in nonviolent protests. In civil disobedience, citizens refuse to obey specific government laws.

Causes of student activism

Student activism is as old as university education. Its aim mainly focuses on internal issues affecting learners and education. They can range from fashion to food, essays, exams, and general campus life. At times, activism is triggered by factors beyond the campus. They can be issues affecting society, politics, the economy, and law. For instance, the Greensboro sit-ins were to protest racial segregation. The nonviolent protest was started by four students on February 1, 1960. It spread fast to over 50 cities and continued until July 1960. 

The university uprisings of 1968 were triggered by facility-based segregation on campuses. They were also against a conformist culture. The culture ripped student communities on campus apart. Mainly black students took control of the Columbia University administrative block. They also wanted to stop the university from stealing land in Harlem. 

Protests and movements were key to reforming universities for many years. One of the ways students pushed for reforms is through writing. They wrote books, essays, and research papers. Today, there is a lot of literature on activism available across many platforms. One of the places where students can find essay examples on the subject is GradesFixer online resource. Each paper contains specific details on the major events that took place in each era.

Fighting for civil rights on campuses

The protests on May 4, 1970, are regarded as the biggest student protest ever. It brought together over 3,000 students from Ohio University. The issue at hand was the Cambodian invasion and the shooting at Kent State. They agreed to a nonviolent strike on the Athens campus. A lot of universities in the US were admitting white male students only. 

This pushed for civil rights movements and civil disobedience on campuses. Learners started pushing for equality. They wanted every American to be allowed to join campus. In the 1960s, masses of students started to march in protest. In 1968, a student protest research was carried out. It found that 1 in every 5 student-led protests was pushing for an end to segregation on campus. 

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Supporting the vision of Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King Jr. is regarded as one of the most influential civil rights movement leaders in history. He organized historical nonviolent protests and civil disobedience. The movement started in 1954 and continued until 1968. Luther wanted the government to end discrimination and segregation of blacks. Although Luther had great influence, the nonviolent student revolution was significant. 

The Brown versus Board of Education of Topeka court case was crucial. Topeka’s daughter had been refused to enter the all-white Topeka school. The court gave orders to stop separating students in public schools. Many schools never heeded the ruling. This led to the Little Rock Nine issue. 9 black students had to attend a white school under guard. 

Another contribution to Martin Luther King’s efforts was the SNCC. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was started in 1960. Mainly black students engaged in mass protests and civil disobedience. They organized to travel interstate in what they called Freedom Rides. It was to protest segregation in interstate buses. They endured violence, arrests, and a case where a bus was set on fire. President Kennedy took action and ended the violence. 

College student social movements in the post-1990s era

Student protests and activism do not seem to end any time soon. At the end of the 20th century, a new wave of student activism began. Within a decade, there was a series of protests to address different issues. Examples were LGBTQ rights, Asian-American rights, and economic justice. 

Protests for economic justice were started at Stanford University in 1990. In 1994, there was the Chicano Hunger Strike by Asian-American students. Student activism greatly shaped Black Lives Matter in the 2010s. The greatest propagation was done on social media. In a short time, the activism had taken a global scale. 


Nonviolence and civil disobedience by students are as old as university education. Learners participate in the civil rights movement to push for social, political, and economic change. Throughout history, they have played a critical role in winning human rights. They have pushed for democratization and equality on campuses. The most recent greatest activism is the Black Lives Matter movement.