From Apathy to Activism
This will be the 10th column I've written for The Spectrum, and I've yet to take a stand.
That might be an exaggeration, as all columns are expected to make a point of some kind, but there is an obvious trend in the columns I've written. I've discussed competition in college, penalty fees for losing items at UB, music in schools, and the problems with gossip, among other topics.
Clearly, I do not have a beat topic or an isolated area of interest, but every time my words have graced the right-hand side of page three, I have never expressed my social, economic – and especially political – views.
It's not that I've taken pains to make my Spectrum persona an apolitical one so as to avoid getting flamed by members of the opposite camp. The truth is, the managing editor of this newspaper, even outside of that role, tends to be largely apathetic when it comes to politics.
Don't worry – I know that's a problem. I won't use this column to tell my fellow students that it's OK to be apathetic and that they should turn their eyes and ears from what's going on outside of their on-campus bubbles – in fact, my motive is quite the opposite.
As an aspiring journalist, I've realized that my lack of political interest puts me at a severe disadvantage. Although journalists cannot insert their opinions in a story they are covering, it helps to understand the issue at hand and the rhetoric behind each side. Sometimes, I am embarrassed during Spectrum editorial meetings because I do not know enough about the subject to voice my opinion.
Over winter break, I challenged myself to read The New York Times – at least the top stories – every day, a routine that I still uphold. The transformation was slow, but day-by-day, I started to become more interested in political and socio-economic issues.
I began to bring up my views on the news with my family, and although I was able to carry on these conversations easily, my parents, with little interest in these issues, were not able to offer me much debate. However, when I returned to UB, where many students were informed enough to engage me in animated debate, I froze up and chose to remain silent, afraid that I would not be able to hold my own in the argument. One day, though, I am confident that I will be able to handle this challenge.
I would not identify apathy as a widespread problem at UB, as many students here openly express their views in class and in conversations with each other. However, in a recent social justice-related conversation I had with some fellow students, several of them struggled to think of an issue that they cared about enough to openly protest or demonstrate about. Herein lies the problem.
Today, UB leaves few traces of the protest campus it was in the '60s and '70s. Over the past couple of weeks, while sifting through The Spectrum's archives for a project, I've discovered that UB students unashamedly protested issues such as the Vietnam War, the ROTC presence on campus, and racial bias in athletics. They did not let anything pass, and they demonstrated until they drew attention to their causes.
I'm embarrassed to say that I have not made the slightest effort to continue this legacy. During the time I've attended UB, I've seen only a few protests taking place on campus. With some exceptions, even people who are passionate about an issue make little effort to advocate for that at UB.
I should be the last one to judge when it comes to student activism. But my goal as I grow in my understanding of world, national, and local issues will not only be to care for the sake of caring, or for the opportunity to debate with others. I will discover issues that I care about enough to act upon. Anyone who reads this column can hold me to that promise.
Older adults often say that we, as young adults, are the future of this nation – and as we know, that's true. Some look at that prospect with fear, and others look forward to it with hope and anticipation. My years of apathy are – albeit slowly – coming to a close. It's our time now, and our generation will not disappoint.