This post is the first in a series of twelve exploring the student activism stories that are likely to make news on the American campus in the 2010-11 academic year.

The BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill began on April 20, but the magnitude of the disaster only became clear gradually in the weeks that followed. The crisis unfolded while most American students were preparing for and taking their final exams, and by the time it was obvious that this was one of the country’s worst ever environmental catastrophes, the academic year was over.

It’s not clear that the BP spill would have inspired a huge amount of campus protest even if its timing has been different — students tend to organize around issues that they can influence, particularly on a local level, and the entire country’s response to the BP spill mostly took the form of shock and impotent frustration.

But the spill has shifted the terms of the environmental debate in the United States, and though a specific student response to it is even less likely now than it would have been while it was going on, its effects will be reflected in the organizing that does arise this year — particularly if another environmental disaster takes place.