Campus Friction: A Short Ethnographic Engagement with Protest as Performance in York University’s Vari Hall
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This paper explores the connection between campus spaces and protests by student-based groups at York University during the 2008-2009 academic session. Guided by the questions: What are the symbolic connections between campus spaces and the protests that occur in these spaces? Are campus protests effective in promoting awareness and creating real change?, I argue that protests that occur on York’s campus are complex social interactions in which the allocation and use of space speaks volumes about York University’s campus’ social stratification, its institutional values, and fosters community formation through participation in activism. Based on interviews conducted with students, protest conceptualized as extracurricular educational experiences, which foster a sense of community and enable students to put their education into practice in meaningful ways. Conversely, protests make students aware of the ways in which York’s campus is both a public institution and a private entity under increasing pressure of corporatization. Viewing campus spaces as either public or private entitled students to different, and often contradicting, rights and privileges regarding their use of space. Through their metaphors of campus space and descriptions of protest experiences, students are also acutely aware of disconnects between their political movements and institutional support by the University’s administration. In this way, campus protests are seen as effective in promoting awareness but lacking the ability to create any real and lasting change, ultimately resulting in the illusion of agency and increased governmentality when the University’s administration stepped in.
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