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Observer Editorial: Engage for excellence

| Friday, September 9, 2016

This weekend, as we pour into Notre Dame Stadium for the first home football game of the year, many of us will be wearing this year’s iteration of The Shirt. On the back of The Shirt there is a message to “surrender to excellence” — part of a longer quote from University President Emeritus Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, which reads, “There has been a surrender at Notre Dame, a surrender to excellence on all fronts, and in this we hope to rise above ourselves with the help of God.”

However, there is one front within our lives here at Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s where we have failed to “surrender to excellence:” We have shirked our responsibility to be politically active and engaged citizens, choosing to surrender, not to excellence, but to apathy and ignorance.

In past editorials, we have written about the need to vote and the great responsibility we have as voters, especially in the face of historically low young voter turnouts. Although showing up to the polls is an important component of being a politically engaged citizen, it is not sufficient for true political engagement.

Political activism requires a dedication to discovering the truth, standing up in protest against injustices and challenging one’s nation and one’s self to engage in constructive dialogue. To be fully engaged citizens, we must let go of our collective insecurities and personal indifferences.

The scope of our political ineptitude extends far beyond the ballot box. This past week, our campus became the most engaged it has been in a long time when several hundred people joined a Facebook event protesting the changes made to North Dining Hall. The fact that we can become fired up about minor changes in the food services department, but not about the very real and troubling issues facing us today, is deeply alarming and indicative of our failure as students and as citizens

As this Editorial Board sees it, two main factors drive a lack of engagement across our campuses. First, there are some who do not know how to become engaged in certain topics or situations. Whether due to time constraints, disinterest or even just not knowing where to look, some of us are simply unaware.

For this group, the first step is easy: educate yourself. There are more than enough clubs, events and resources on our campuses to ensure that all of us can explore and develop well-informed convictions on where we stand.

Then there are those of us who actively choose not to partake in necessary conversations, despite the convictions we hold. In some ways, those in this group present a greater challenge to developing a politically involved campus, for they have the knowledge to make a difference, yet choose to do nothing.

Complacency is inherently an act of cowardice, especially when presented with the opportunities afforded by our education. What is the point of a being a college student if not to challenge ourselves and our beliefs, to grow outside of our comfort zones and to ask the truly important questions?

To be able to partake in the conversation on campus, we must first realize that politics is a dialogue that requires understanding and patience, not aggression and stubbornness. Conversations must be just conversations; they cannot be debates in which people expect a “winner,” but rather open and respectful dialogue.

It is our right to have an opinion, and it is our opportunity to share that with our classmates. Conflicts will naturally occur given the bipartisanship that divides our nation across sharply defined lines. However, we are asking that you step over those lines and reach out to the other side, keeping an open mind and a sense of respect for your counterparts.

To some, this prospect may seem scary — and they have every right to be scared. Developing into politically active citizens requires that we boldly step out of our comfort zones and engage those around us, even if we think our peers hold different opinions. It’s a challenge, but the rewards of being a passionate citizen are plentiful.

At the same time, it is important to ensure that we don’t mistake aggression for passion. Nothing will ever justify belittling, mocking or disrespecting those we converse with, no matter how different their values are from our own.

Furthermore, political activism is just as fundamental to our education at the University and the College as our academic studies and our vocational development. It carries with it a weight of moral responsibility.

As the youth of the United Kingdom found out this past summer, political apathy can have serious consequences. In June, the UK voted to leave the European Union in a move that shocked the world, causing panic in financial markets worldwide. However, it turned out that those in the 18- to 24-year-old demographic — those who would be living with this decision far more than any other generation — were the ones with the worst voter turnout.

With that decision to not vote, to not know and to not engage came an outcome which was unexpected, and the ramifications of which we may not fully understand for years to come.

As it stands now, older generations are the ones making the decisions that will impact our nation for years to come, yet we are the ones who will live with those decisions.

So when we don our game day shirts this weekend, we ask that you consider the questions posed by Fr. Hesburgh’s call to surrender to excellence.

Will we stand up and transform the political dialogue on campus? Or does our political activism only extend as far as the like button on a Facebook event?

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