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Becky Hayes

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Students Just Not as Active as They Used to Be

Posted: 03/28/2012 1:30 pm

Recently, there has been a lack of interest in activism on college campuses. Students just don't seem to care as much as they used to.

So many students are burdened with busy schedules and other worries, it comes as no surprise that they have not been leaders in the current movements such as the Occupy Wall Street protests. Northeastern University had one lone tent on its campus supporting the Occupiers. Students at Emerson and the University of Vermont had to join their respective cities' organizations because there was not enough interest among students to start occupying on campus. Yes, students led teach-ins, speak-outs and rallies at school -- but none of this was very effective in gaining support from the mass of the student body.

In a survey conducted by Brown University's student newspaper, The Daily Herald, 57 percent of faculty said they think that student activism is lower or much lower today than when they attended college. Some faculty, like Brown Professor Robert Self, said the decline may have to do with a lack of "unifying issues" such as the civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1960s and 1970s.

With students protesting topics as diverse as finance and the environment, it's hard to get everyone to agree on a single issue. When there is a separate club on campus for every advocacy group, students become divided and the number of members in each assembly is low.

At the University of Vermont, a school with more than 10,000 undergrads, the number of students at any given protest won't surpass 60 people. This number was twice as high just a few years ago.

In 2009, more than 100 students gathered in the executive offices at UVM to meet with the president and discuss their concerns about budget cuts and administrative disregard for the faculty union.

Students spoke to the president for more than half an hour, and although no negotiations were made, their concerns reached the ears of the most important people on campus. After the discussion, students remained in the building once it closed and refused to leave even after warnings from the police.

Twenty-seven students were arrested for this peaceful protest, and a crowd of 200 cheered for the students as they were escorted from the building. Today, the largest crowd supporting a protest would be students passing by on their walk to class.

Students conduct rallies at public places on campus and use microphones, posters and handouts in an attempt to convince passersby of their cause. In my experience, this is a less-than-effective method to entice students because when they are heading to class, the last thing on a person's mind is holding the administration responsible for economic crisis or advocating women's rights. They simply aren't interested.

With students focusing on other aspects of college life, it looks like that fight-for-a-cause activism has burned out. If we chose to unite on a single issue that affects a large percentage of the student body, we would have much more success in actually making a difference in our world.

So stop with the small stuff and find something that matters to the majority. Strength really does come in numbers. Make noise and be unafraid because only then will you have the people behind you to make change possible.