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Activism present but subdued

Observer Staff | Friday, November 20, 2009

This week, the 40th anniversary of the ‘Notre Dame 10′ — the now-famous group of students suspended for their demonstration against Dow-CIA recruiting on campus — brings to mind several questions about the present state of student activism at Notre Dame.
Specifically: Where is it?
Though conditions on college campuses today are incomparable to those of the Vietnam War era — most notably there is no draft for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — there are still issues that students are passionate about, ones they could and should work for to effect change.
The apparent lack of activism today might also be explained in part by the current career-oriented college culture, which positions students on a one-track mindset: take the right classes and land a great job that reflects the value of a Notre Dame degree. Students of the 1960s student revolution were of a different breed, going to college to get an education for education’s sake, not just for the increased earning power of a degree. For many, an education included social change and protest.
In remembering the 1969 protests, it’s important to note the atmosphere at Notre Dame was not like that of, say, Berkeley in the 1960s. The demonstration by the ‘Notre Dame 10′ is perhaps the most-well known protest action to take place on this campus for social and political change — and it’s a far cry from massive riots resulting on arrests and deaths on some college campuses in that era.
Today, the activist spirit at Notre Dame is even weaker than it was in 1969.
The lack of visible student activism is lamentable, as is the complacency and apathy of the majority of the student body. Certainly there are numbers of groups and organizations — like the Campus Labor Action Project (CLAP) and the Progressive Student Alliance (PSA) — working for change every day. There are also groups that stand up for what they believe to be right, like ND Response, which formed around last spring’s Commencement controversy.
Notre Dame’s Catholic culture instills the value of community service, both at home and abroad, in its students. Service is a form of activism, and it effects a necessary change. But service is only one part of the picture. Campaigning for greater social change — the work of groups like PSA, Right to Life and CLAP — is another part of the picture, and it shouldn’t be ignored.
These students’ efforts may not as visible as the actions of their predecessors. Destructive and violent protests and riots of the past are not called for on today’s campus. But their actions, whether through petitions, marches, rallies, masses or debates, are vital. They are the active few on this campus working for the issues they believe in.
The lack of visible student activism is not their fault. They are doing their part and attempting to raise awareness. But the student body as a whole needs to open its eyes beyond the campus, classes and the job search and appreciate the work of these groups by joining them and supporting the causes that call them to act.