Simply walking from the Diag to the Posting Wall, one is bombarded with posters, banners, flyers and quarter sheets from various departments, organizations and events on campus. There is no doubt that our students, professors and faculty care about a lot of things. Between guest speakers and conferences, social justice dialogues and ally trainings, our student body appears to be very socially conscious. However, the question is, are we actually accomplishing anything with these deliberate and evident acts of empathy?
A few years ago, Malcolm Gladwell wrote an article called “Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted.” Besides my inexplicable addiction to both Malcolm Gladwell and Twitter, there are a few reasons this article caught my attention. Gladwell discusses how, with the increasing popularity of social media, we are losing sight of true activism. Being physically present is what sparked great movements, not simply showing support through tweets and sharing links on Facebook. Looking back on movements that inspire me — most notably the Civil Rights Movement — college students just like us were able to organize nationwide, without any previous communication. Rather, pure passion and a need for change drove them.
As a student who is starting to become very aware that my days in Ann Arbor are limited, I ask myself what I can do to leave my mark on the University. To be honest, I don’t think it will be through quarter sheets and Facebook posts.
Although we shouldn’t disregard the tools we have such as social media and flyers, we also need to recognize the importance of our voices. Although these new technological tools allow us to make connections across borders and communities, they also make it easier for us to abandon our cause. All you have to do is throw away that flyer.
This is the problem with just relying on a piece of paper to relay our message. It lacks the piece of activism that I love the most: our humanity. Taking the human factor out of activism allows us to forget that, behind each cause, there is a person who truly cares about the issue and is personally affected by the result of it. I have a deep faith in the empathy of our student body, but I think that somewhere along the way, it got lost among the Facebook posts, tweets and flyers.
Without building tangible relationships across communities, it will be impossible for us to create a unified student body. We will continue to cover each other’s flyers with our own, click “attending” on a Facebook event and then decide not to go because we’re too tired to actually leave our rooms, or just sit in bed and re-tweet that interesting article in the Daily. Failing to see the humanity in social justice allows us to disengage from the problem and call ourselves activists, without actually taking action.
So, really, how much of a difference are we making when we choose to put up flyers, walk away and hope someone comes to our event? Does it really make us a better person for taking a quarter sheet from that person standing at the posting wall — know that I have been on both sides of this — and then throw it away when they aren’t looking? Where is the line between actually caring about social justice and being a campus that only appears to care?
I do not claim to be above this problem, but I ask you to join me in pushing ourselves forward to actually engage in these issues. Instead of just covering the Posting Wall with endless tape and flyers every day, and then watching the layers get torn down every night, let us unite in a cause that creates a deep passion for social justice within all of us. We can use these tools to start conversations — such as creating a hashtag to start conversations about race or using Facebook to get the word out on a dialogue about socioeconomic status — but we cannot let it stop there. Without engaging the humanity within each one of us, we will continue to fall short, never reaching the ultimate goal of justice.
Harleen Kaur can be reached at email@example.com.