2015 Student-Organized Conference

The Second Annual Student-Organized Global Affairs Conference

Apathy and Action: Exploring Youth-Driven Movements

Middlebury College, Middlebury, VT, USA

February 19th - February 20th, 2015


  • Forest Jarvis ’15
  • Bilal Khan ’18
  • Karen Liu ’15
  • Gabbie Santos ’17

2014 marked a watershed year for youth activism. Many of the social movements that made headlines - from Occupy Central in Hong Kong to the People’s Climate March in New York - were driven by the passion and energy of young people. The level of resolve and engagement displayed by the youth in such movements not only captivated the world, but also created pressure for change. 

Youth-driven social movements in East Asia, South Asia, Latin America, and North America, as well as global movements such as the climate movement are greatly varied in their methods and level of success. This conference, however, aims to explore the shared characteristics of these movements—with particular focus on how factors, such as apathy, radicalism, moderation and class, could enhance or weaken the strength of youth-led action. This conference will put the latest youth-led movements in perspective and look to the future, aiming to determine the key factors that will be responsible for either bringing or deterring social change. In particular, it aims to explore the role that youth can and have played in activism, and what the potential role of students around the world will be going forward. 

This conference addresses the following questions:

  • Who is able to participate in social movements?Who is excluded? What barriers do the youth face in initiating and/or sustaining a social movement?
  • What do youth-driven social movements have in common? Why have they been successful? Why might they have fallen short of creating change?
  • Are radicals helpful or harmful to social movements? What are roles of radicals and moderates in social movements?
  • How do the sites of mobilization relate to the kind of social movements taking root and their future trajectory?

By exploring these questions related to youth-led social action through a variety of mediums including lectures, panels and screenings, we hope to engage the Middlebury community in an academic dialogue, as well as provide participants with on-the-ground insights from seasoned practitioners and scholars of the field. In this two-day event, participants will gain a better understanding of the theory and practice of youth-led organizing across different regions, issues, and approaches to activism. 

Part of Middlebury College’s mission is to develop its students to become critical thinkers and global leaders. This conference will be an opportunity to reflect on how Middlebury students can affect and support change in the real world. We also hope it will provide a platform for discussion and debate for students, faculty, presenters and community members.  

All sessions open to the public. 

Recorded Sessions

Between Protest and Powerlessness: The Startling Ubiquity of Youth Activism, presented by Meredith Weiss, University of Albany

The Radical Mind, presented by Don Wyatt and Linus Owens, Middlebury College

Combating Apathy, presented by Shannon Galpin, Mountain2Mountain

Collective Action and Strategy, presented by Marcela Olivera, Water for All, and Jonathan Smucker, UC Berkeley

The Climate Movement, presented by Bill McKibben, Middlebury College, and Alexandra Barlowe, Fossil Free Yale

Sponsored by: Rohatyn Center for Global Affairs, MCAB Speakers Committee, International Students’ Organization, Chinese Department, East Asian Studies Department, Political Science Department