Black and brown students and students of all backgrounds are making demands upon universities, from Missouri to Connecticut to California.  This is not new.  Students have made demands before.  That is what young people have traditionally done, railed against injustice.

“We are the eye of the West.”   Those are the words of the black writer Clarence Major, in his 1967 essay, “A Black Criterion.”   In the essay, Major is writing about the black writer and, by extension, the black person of his era.

They are “the eyes of the university.”  Today’s black students, indeed, all of these student protestors, have become the “eyes” of college campuses across America. They are questioning the status quo and thereby shaking up citadels of learning.   They are marching, making demands and staging “die-ins.”  Their actions are troubling to some, but for others, these actions—straight out of the playbook of the civil rights and black power movements—are a source of pride.

Thus, as many of our nation’s campuses have become sites of contestation, now, during a season of “thanksgiving,” is a time to pause, reflect, and give thanks.

Let us give thanks for the pioneers for justice who came before, who marched and prayed and sat down in spaces where they were not wanted, thus dismantling places of prejudice.  Let us give thanks for these elders who “spoke truth to power” and left lessons of stridency and courage.  Their legacy has been enshrined in history books which our young have read and absorbed.

Let us give thanks for the civil rights movement which helped to change America.  But, as today’s protests attest, that movement is not yet finished.  There is unfinished business in the land.   Today’s young people are attempting to complete the task.  Clearly, these young people have listened and read and thought long and hard; they have learned from the past.

Let us give thanks for these young college protesters, who are rising up and demanding that colleges and universities self-examine and become better, more inclusive places of learning and growth.  Let us give thanks for the changes on college campuses that are occurring as the “eyes of the universities,” their students, help to make higher education a better place for all.

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