‘Being Black and a Student Activist’ offers guidance for young protesters

Joel Thompson

trans man smiling and gesturing towards board
CSU professor Dr. Dafina-Lazarus Stewart speaks about the history and current state of student activism at the Lory Student Center Feb. 21. (Anna von Pechmann | Collegian).

The essentials of peaceful demonstration were taught at the “Being Black and a Student Activist” seminar held on Thursday, Feb. 21.

The seminar was part of the “Being Black and…” series for Black History Month by Colorado State University’s Black and African American Cultural Center (BACC).


The topics discussed include activism, protesting, intersectionality and how to apply these ideas to modern campuses.

Dafina-Lazarus Stewart, a School of Education Ph.D. professor and co-chair of Student Affairs in Higher Education programs at CSU, was the primary presenter during the seminar.

The starting point for discussion was understanding how activism and protest are two separate ideas, but work together in many ways.

Activism was described as movement with not only specific goals and a philosophy, but as something that can be sustained. The protest segment touched on the different forms a demonstration can take, such as marches, sit-ins and social media. It also described the behind-the-scenes work supporting the protest.

The relationship presented between the two was that without protest, activism would not be as effective, but protests without an intentional movement behind them would have no lasting impact.

Not only did going to this help me in the moment, but these are things I am now going to take my own self and put into my community. It really benefited me with my future in being an activist,” -Arrion Smith, journalism major

Another aspect that was essential to the seminar was the history of student activism on college campuses.

“I think it’s important for college students to learn about activism and protesting movements for several reasons,” Stewart said. “One is that it has been a part of college student history for so long … to understand the history is important because you’ve got to know where you came from to know where you’re going.”

A timeline of college protests in the United States was explained by those in the seminar and was finished by Stewart. It included the first on-campus protests by students at Harvard, protests by the women’s suffrage movement, the Vietnam War protests and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee who coordinated the Greensboro sit-ins. This all lead up to present day movements such as March for Our Lives and Black Lives Matter.

Intersectionality was the next topic of discussion. The idea was described as the intersection of different identities meeting together in not only one’s personal identity. Intersectionality was said to be an essential aspect to consider in activism, to make sure those identities are being correctly represented.

“Intersectionality recognizes the need to consider the multiplication of oppression, not just the addition,” Stewart said. “(This is) so that we can understand that the experiences for instance of Black trans women are qualitatively different than just saying trans people in general, than Black people in general, than women in general.”


Students who went to the event, like journalism major Arrion Smith, found great insight in attending the seminar.

“Not only did going to this help me in the moment, but these are things I am now going to take my own self and put into my community,” Smith said. “It really benefited me with my future in being an activist.”

Joel Thompson can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @probably_joel.