Are college campuses the last to join the protests in the US?

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Fusion's Freshmen Five are smack in the middle of finals right now, but we managed to pull them away from their textbooks for a quick chat about current events.

We wanted to know how campuses and students are grappling with the recent wave of protests that have unfolded around the country in the wake of Ferguson and New York, and how they're handling complex discussions related to campus sexual assault.

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College campuses can provide a safe space for thoughtful reflection and impassioned debate on current events. But they can also be insular places where students shut out the world beyond their university's gates.

Here's what Fusion's Freshmen Five had to say:

1. Cece, 19

Hometown: Atlanta, Georgia

School: American University, Washington, District of Columbia

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(Andy Dubbin/Fusion)

On the protests following the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner:

"There was a gathering on campus for Ferguson. A couple of my friends went out to the D.C. protests… I walked into the lounge and people were talking about the NYPD…It's not really brought up in my classes, but I wonder if it's because I'm taking literature and there's a lot of wrap-up going on in the courses.

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On campus sexual assault:

I don't know about the Rolling Stone article…There was a group organizing that had people carry mattresses, I forget which school (Ed. note: Columbia University, originally), but a friend started something here.

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2. Denis, 20

Hometown: Washington, District of Columbia

School: Montgomery College, Takoma Park, Maryland

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(Andy Dubbin/Fusion)

On the protests following the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner:

I've been reading about it, but no professors have talked about it…I haven't heard anything about it on campus…I don't think I would like to talk about it in class just because I prefer to spend that time on things my classes are about.

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On campus sexual assault:

I read something about sexual assault on campus, but it's not talked about on campus. Campus is really safe. You won't hear anything about that on this campus…There are no dorms, so nobody lives on campus.

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3. Elmu, 19

Hometown: Washington, District of Columbia

School: George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia

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(Andy Dubbin/Fusion)

On the protests following the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner:

It's definitely brought up. The school had an open dialogue about Ferguson, Trayvon Martin, lots of stuff, to talk about questions people had, constructively…I didn't go to that because I had class…My school is into embracing social change; it's a huge conflict-analysis school.

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On campus sexual assault:

Suspending all the frats is pretty drastic. [Ed. Note: The University of Virginia suspended fraternity activity for the semester following an article in Rolling Stone that detailed an alleged gang rape.] The specific one, ok, but the rest of Greek life in general seems far too drastic and unfair…It's unjust to those who spent time putting effort into it. They're getting blamed for everything…We've always talked about being hospitable to any female, making sure they come to a party and feel safe, and on campus making sure that people feel safe, that they don't feel pressured…There haven't been for sexual assault, but if there are any occurrences on campus, everybody gets a mass email.

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4. Maria, 18

Hometown: Staten Island, New York

School: College of Staten Island, Staten Island, New York

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(Andy Dubbin/Fusion)

On the protests following the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner:

Honestly, I haven't heard anything on campus. I've seen it in the neighborhood (Ed. note: Maria lives in Staten Island, where a grand jury decided not to indict the officer who administered a fatal chokehold to Eric Garner.)…Our English professor said that if we want to get more in-depth, to let him know, because it would be a nice discussion to let us know what's going on…I don't see the point of the protesting, but I'm not against it. Well, I'm against some things, but not all of them…They're a little dramatic about it.

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On campus sexual assault:

Our English teacher brought it up and is thinking of doing our last class on it. He mentioned a student carrying a mattress…To be honest, I haven't heard anything big about this, but I'm a freshman…There are no fraternities on campus.

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5. Sarena, 18

Hometown: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

School: Hampton University, Hampton, Virginia

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(Andy Dubbin/Fusion)

On the protests following the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner:

There was a protest going on for the Mike Brown case that was a big thing around campus… Kids are not going to class. Everybody is really upset about it and there's been class walk-outs and hand-in-hand type things. I did two protests…Professors don't talk about it in class, which is weird. At first the school was kind of hesitant, but then the students became upset and began expressing themselves on Twitter, feeling like the school is saying if anybody protests, there will be consequences, but the school covered themselves up and said we never said that…My English professor is really strong on things like that and he talked about it and the importance of it and kids not voting. He got really angry and says it's really important for African-Americans to be civically engaged, but it's the end of the semester and professors are more focused on coursework.

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On campus sexual assault:

No, that's the thing. Once they made it a dominant thing, sending out a newsletter saying sexual assault is the wrong thing and if someone does it, they'll be punished…They make it repetitive and they make sure it doesn't happen. I haven't heard about it…Sometimes fraternities and sororities get priority and they can do certain things that are sometimes overlooked, like uncivil acts…Like being dogs, where a boy will be put on a leash and crawl and bite girls' butts. Girls just scream…People say that's the norm…The school looks the other way since it's all in fun.

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For earlier installments in this series, click on the following links.

  • Part 1: Fusion's Freshmen Five tell us what college is really like
  • Part 2: Fusion's Freshmen Five update us on how college is going
  • Part 3: Fusion’s Freshmen Five have some advice for students applying to college

Emily DeRuy is a Washington, D.C.-based associate editor, covering education, reproductive rights, and inequality. A San Francisco native, she enjoys Giants baseball and misses Philz terribly.

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