Campus / News / October 6, 2010

Political activism: all burnt out?

The Student Senate election turnout amounted to about 15 percent of students this year. According to many, including sustainability chair and sophomore Firas Suqi, the ballots were too confusing. Vice president, senior David Barton, offered the scarcity of competitive districts as another possible cause for low participation. But it might be that Knox students just don’t care about politics anymore. For example, the Knox Republicans and Knox Democrats, both of which were centers of political thought only a couple of years ago, now seem to be defunct. Senior Sam Harrison has vouched that this is true for the Democrats, and according to Assistant Director of Campus Life Jill Gates, the Republicans do not have any official contacts.

Senior Gabe Paz, co-preisdent of the Student Health Advocacy Group, former safety and services chair and former Student Senate presidential hopeful expressed discontent that serious crises centers such as Haiti, Pakistan and Palestine seem to have already come and gone from the Knox consciousness.

“I blame CNN and news in general,” Paz said. According to him, the networks’ principle offense is turning major social concerns into “hot causes,” which quickly fall in and out of favor. He also cited as a cause for a lack of activism that “Knox is all or nothing, and defeatist.” To him, the tragedy of Knox is that students are not here long enough to have a vested interest. In turn, issues that cannot be solved before graduation are not deemed worthy of attention. Paz summed up what’s been on his mind: “Knox is pretty f-ing apathetic.”

Former senator and senior Abraham Diekhans-Mears cited opposition from a bureaucratic administration and the exclusive social atmosphere at Knox as the reasons for the downfall of activism. He pointed to a “fear of being ostracized from a small, cliquish community.” The result is a general malaise, under which everything is falling apart. Diekhans-Mears also believed that it is possible to overcome the anti-activist culture, as he personally does not mind standing out. “If not being rude means being stupid, let’s be rude,” he said.

But it turns out that it is not easy to quantify enthusiasm. While concerned students may not be flocking to traditional centers for political activists, it could be the case that they have found other outlets for their energies.

“Everything is politics,” said KARES president and senior Michelle Gerber. She said her club has been very active these first few weeks, especially with regard to the bottled water campaign.

Senior Rosie Worthen, of Alliance for Peaceful Action (APA) and Estudiantes sin fronteras, is not worried about lack of activism so far. She said, “It’s only the third week,” and her clubs have a number of events planned for the next couple of weeks.

Senior Amelia Garcia, president of Students Against Sexism in Society (SASS), questioned the right of outsiders to demand others to be more politically active, saying, “People ask where is SASS on this issue, and expect us to do radical stuff all the time.” She continued and said, “SASS is a vehicle for individuals … interests change from year to year.”

Demographics are something to consider, too. “About half of APA members are seniors,” Worthen said. “In that light, the questions of where we are, and what are we doing suddenly seem dwarfed by the uncertainty of where we are going. “

Diekhans-Mears said, “This college can either be an extension of comfort, or confrontation [with reality].” Which one it will be is going to be determined by a combination of the student body and the administration. Worthen said, “I’m optimistic that we can pass the torch.”

Maxwell Galloway-Carson

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