By Melanie Kruvelis, Senior Editorial Page Editor
Published November 5, 2012
They’re doing fairly important things, albeit in a defensive way. But I didn’t want to be part of that. I didn’t feel like I was participating.”
What are your thoughts on our generation compared to the one of the 60s?
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I hand him a flyer from a recent Coalition for Tuition Equality protest on campus. “Do it like we did in the 60s,” the card says. “Stand up and protest. Join the movement.”
“What do you think about that?” I ask him. “You know, using the 1960s as this blueprint for student activism?”
He leans back in his chair. “Just look at the town. Look at the giant apartment buildings coming up. Things have changed in a big way.”
He pauses. “There’s been a huge shift in the way we understand problems. Back then, there was a systemic responsibility on everyone involved.”
And now? “The narrative shifted to the individual. It’s become hard to convince people of anything. That anything is their problem too.”
“And you know, as one middle-class college student, who are you to say what’s right?” Cahill asks. “You just don’t know.”
“Do you think we’ll leave as much of an impact on this campus as the students of the 60s did?” I ask.
“No,” Cahill says immediately. “Not a chance.”
Is Campus dead?
There are a lot of tempting conclusions to come out of this.
One: To bastardize Nietzsche, Campus is dead.
Tempting indeed. After all, the weather is already awful, no one knows how to walk in Angell Hall and no one cares about anything, ever.
But of course, this is too simple. Sure, we don’t have SDS anymore. But maybe SDS is now SSDP, ACLU, HRTE and thousands of other active acronyms. For better or for worse, we’ve splintered off into this alphabet soup of special interest organizations.
But is that enough? Are mass meetings, mass emails and mass reply-alls really reaching the student body in a meaningful way? We’re not taking to the streets. We’re not holding sit-ins at meetings of the University's Board of Regents. Professors aren’t holding teach-ins, like they did in 1965, when they cancelled classes to protest the Vietnam War. If we model ourselves after the students of the 60s — as we may be tempted to do, the answer is a resounding hell no.
Which brings us to conclusion two: Maybe that campus, that idea of campus, is dead. But it doesn’t mean ours is too.
“There’s a fallacy in looking just at student orgs as a source of change,” says Riley Linebaugh, an LSA senior who sat on the student panel at the conference. “Whether it’s a friend group or a team or a social organization, people are interacting in ways that reflect love, fraternity and democracy like the Port Huron Statement talks about.”
“The problem is those interactions aren’t interpreted as being relevant to social change. What we’re doing right now,” she says, pointing across the table at me and back to her, “is part of the change.”
For Linebaugh, the solution to academic apathy, to finding our impact on this campus isn’t in existing organizations. It isn’t in following the exact path of SDS and feeling disappointed when it leads to nowhere. It’s about taking what we learned from the very alive, very present 60s and making it our own.
“There’s this misunderstanding that activism and critical thought somehow has to be contained within university structures,” Linebaugh says. “I just think it would be amazing if a student critical mass pushed for new spaces, new forums to come together outside of organizations.”
She pauses. “Maybe if we did that, we’d look a little less uncomfortably to the future.”