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The Social Justice Activists


At these schools, the weekends are not just for partying and watching Netflix. Students organize rallies and protests on the reg, because they’re here for one reason: to change the world. Between police brutality and women’s rights, poverty and sexual assault, no issue is left out. Check out our list of the most socially conscious schools!

10. COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY (New York City, New York)

In 2014, then senior Emma Sulkowicz vowed to carry a mattress around with her as long as her alleged rapist remained at Columbia, symbolizing the weight she carried. In support for Emma, groups of students have imitated her, going as far as leaving mattresses at the school President's home.

These events are in line with a long history of student activism at Columbia, of which one of the most memorable events was the 1968 protest against racism, organized by Students for a Democratic Society, which resulted in a surge of violence against the participants. Tradition lives on.

9. AMERICAN UNIVERSITY (Washington, District of Columbia)

Located in the nation's capital, it comes as no surprise that American University is so reputed for its political activism. "American University. Literally always holding protests," says Grace, a senior at the school. "I can't count how many rallies there have been in the last semester alone, whether it's concerning police brutality, environment and divestment, or what have you, there's probably at least two every month, but probably more."

Students are engaged in a full range of social justice organizations on campus, from Amnesty International to Eco-Sense, which landed them fourth position on the Princeton Review's list of most politically active students in 2014. Alumni include Alice Paul, who created the Equal Rights Amendment to advance gender equality, as well as dozens of local, national and international political leaders.

8. HOWARD UNIVERSITY (Washington, District of Columbia)

This historically black university aims to eliminate all inequalities due to race, class and political convictions. The school considers it its mission to provide service to the nation and the community. It offers programs that are open to the public, such as health education and legal assistance. Among Howard alumni are many prominent civil rights activists, including Vernon Jordan, Jr., Stokely Carmichael and James Farmer. As for current students, they are involved in countless social justice organizations, such as Circle K and the Red Cross Club.


The tragic police shooting of 13 Kent State students who were protesting the Vietnam War in 1970 has shaped the school's values and emphasis on nonviolent social change. The school holds a biennial Democracy Symposium to commemorate the events and engage students and faculty in meaningful discussions that will help to change the world around them.

"We are a very liberal school, so there are protests daily," says Danie, a junior at KSU. "Whether it is Pride, Black United Students or just a protest because someone doesn't like that there are 8 a.m. classes."

More recently, the university has held the Women’s Leadership Symposium to promote women's rights. As for residential life at KSU, all students can expect to be treated equally, thanks to the student-led Social Justice Committee, which upholds diversity, education and inclusion.

6. BRANDEIS UNIVERSITY (Waltham, Massachusetts)

Brandeis describes itself as embodying founder Louis Dembitz Brandeis's values of academic excellence and social justice. The school counts 26 student groups for political activism, including Liberty in North Korea (LiNK) and the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance.

"Students spend their free time organizing and attending weekly peace vigils, conducting sit-ins to protest university sexual assault protocol, and taking to social media to share and discuss views on current events," says Emily, a junior at the school.

Students have demonstrated against such important issues as sexual violence, tuition raises, justice for disabled students and pollution. All of these issues culminate in the annual "weeklong festival of social justice" on campus, ‘DEIS Impact!,’ when "the whole Brandeis community comes together," according to Emily. These kids really put the “social” in “social justice!”

5. BARD COLLEGE (Annandale-On-Hudson, New York)

The Center for Civic Engagement at this liberal arts college encourages Bard students to make an impact on the world around them, whether in the U.S. or abroad. Hundreds of students participate in volunteer work through the Center, tutoring local kids or fighting for racial justice. The Trustee Leader Scholar program pushes students to create their own civic engagement initiatives. Through this program, Raptors have started the Red Hook ESL Center, which aims to teach English to non-native speakers in the area, and Sounds of Social Change, which mentors young musicians in Colombia, among many other amazing projects. Bard students have also made moves to "expand social justice education" in response to the Ferguson protests and die-in movements.

4. CHATHAM UNIVERSITY (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)

Chatham students were super active in the anti-Vietnam War protests, but this college, which went co-ed in 2014, is especially concerned with women's rights. It is home to a Center for Women's Entrepreneurship and the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics. The latter has a weeklong intensive program to promote female leadership, a cause that speaks to us at Her Campus. “HC Chatham partnered with PCWP on screenings of ‘Miss Representation’ and 'Madame Presidenta: Why Not U.S.? Vamos Meninas!,'” says Mara Flanagan, a recent Chatham graduate and a Campus Correspondent for HC.

As if that wasn’t enough, “many students are engaged in advocacy independently of campus institutes,” Mara says. “Chatham’s program in Creative Writing hosts Words Without Walls, inviting MFA candidates to teach at the Allegheny County Jail. Undergraduates are active in organizations including All Faith Gathering, Amnesty International, Cross Cultural Communications, Green Horizons (environmental awareness) and Naturality (food justice, green living, etc.).”

3. UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA (Gainesville, Florida)

UF in the sixties was nicknamed "the Berkeley of the South" for its role in the anti-war and desegregation movements. University alumni include Judith Brown, who actively participated in the second wave feminist movement of the sixties and seventies, and Eleanor Smeal, former president of the National Organization for Women. The school has a long history of fighting for minorities, and joined the ranks of the Ferguson protestors in 2014.

"UF has a very vocal student body," says Abbie, a senior at the school. "We have demonstrations, rallies, protests and talks on everything social justice-oriented. We held a #BlackLivesMatter 'die-in' this past year, held rallies and demonstrations for the Israel conflict, Syria, police brutality and much more. There are political groups and social justice groups in our main plaza every day talking to students about current issues. UF students have strong opinions about current events and voice those opinions every day."

Gators have battled for abortion rights, and participated in anti-war movements, as well as many other hot-button issues. You won't be surprised, then, that UF has sent more of its recent graduates to the Peace Corps than any other school in the Southeast.


Of course the birthplace of the 1964 Free Speech Movement would make the cut. At the time, students fought for their freedom of expression and right to engage in political activism on campus.

Cal has since been a hotbed for social justice movements, holding an annual student-led Social Justice Symposium, and participating in every important fight, frequently making headlines for protesting such issues as police brutality or tuition hikes. And when they're not sparking up full-blown movements, students help to rebuild the Gulf Coast and work to bridge the racial achievement gap, all while including the larger community in their efforts. Go Bears!

1. BENNINGTON COLLEGE (Bennington, Vermont)

So Gloria Steinem was the commencement speaker this year at Bennington. No big deal, though. The school website itself shows its students and faculty's commitment to social justice, with the usual "campus life" and "academics" categories being supplemented with "Think. Act,""Plans in Action" and "Bennington and the World."

Bennington is, and we quote, "the only college to require that students spend a term - every year - at work in the world." This is the Field Work Term, when students intern at various companies and organizations, working to reform the education system, forming and leading their own NGOs, helping to fix issues in NASA projects and distributing private funds to respond to "the world's most pressing problems." All that as undergraduates!

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