By Christian Knudson
Take any course on the history of the University and you will discover that those who went before you created a radiant beacon of activism that transformed this otherwise banal exit off I-94 into a vibrant catalyst for change. It was many years before most of our lifetimes that this rare collection of young adults and their idealistic pedagogues caused America’s ears to perk, its eyes to open, minds to think and its mouths to speak. Now look at us … it’s an ironically disappointing contrast.
As an intelligent community of young people a lot of things have changed since the cultural upheaval of the 1960s and ’70s: we are now more diverse than ever before, our adolescence has been saturated by technological developments providing us with an unbridled array of instruments through which we have the opportunity to pursue our goals like nothing history has ever seen, and for many of us our days pass with few or no preoccupations over possible nuclear war between the superpowers. In a sense we are a privileged family of starry-eyed kids who have been filled with the support of our parents and loved ones to use this college experience to further build for ourselves lives that will be bulky in success and limitless in potential.
Along the way, however, we have allowed ourselves and our consciences as, dare I say it, leaders, to be thickly veiled by the unsettling evolution of American culture and it prevailing values toward materialism and individual success. It is a sad reality that can be said to know no political boundaries and victimizes even the most deeply thinking among us.
The healthy self-criticism of decades previous has gradually winnowed away and left in its wake an unfortunate prevailing mentality shirking everything this beacon that we call the University stands for. While no one can pretend to have the corner on the values market, it does stand to reason that for many of us our unabashedly self-serving, comically pretentious notions of what is important in life suffocates this brilliant, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to mold a greater common good.
As a Campus Day leader I consistently battle with an administration wholly bent it would seem on selling this great University – this place where our “controversial” ideas once challenged misguided authority so much that their only recourse was to call in military personnel–as just another stepping stone, nay, another marketplace through which the competitive acquisition of some means to success can hopefully be attained by the benefactors of its “investors” (read, our parents and us). The University sold you on this place and it is doing a good job, you have to admit, of keeping you and your parents as its client.
Where we were once known as a campus that mobilized the emotions of a nation to question national defense policy, we are now a sheepish lot that must be careful not to let parents of prospective students know that UHS offers such services as STD and HIV/AIDS testing … for fear they might remember their offspring are entering into the real world. Where, in the 1960s, students at the University came together to profess a new vision for a nation (check out the Port Huron Statement) that offered little political or cultural representation for those at the bottom, the campus “politicians” of our generation are the boys and girls who fight for great causes like increased availability of entree-plus and a bus service for us “poor” fraternity men and sorority women who happen to live a few too many steps from campus confines. We should be ashamed of ourselves. I know I am.
Use these four, or however many years you have remaining, to truly fight for something you believe in. Whether it be increasing awareness over the benefits of free trade and its subsequent ability to promote sustainable development in the Third World; or joining the growing movement to hold Dow Chemical Company responsible for the over 20,000 deaths its recently purchased Union Carbide caused in Bhopal, India: give yourself the benefit of knowing you helped to bring about change even while you were working for that BBA or EECS degree. It is, after all, our school and I say we unite in restoring a legacy that cannot disappear into oblivion.
Knudson is an LSA sophomore and co-host of the radio program “Focus on the Issues” on WCBN radio.