There have been too many tragedies lately. The Paris attacks, the Planned Parenthood shootings and the recent San Bernardino shooting are just a few examples from the past few weeks. It’s very easy to become cynical and jaded when the string of bad stories never seems to end. People go through the motions of a tragedy, vow to create change — and then nothing seems to happen.
Students at the University have even more of an excuse to be cynical. Last year we experienced the death of Hannah Graham, the publication of a now-retracted article about the University by Rolling Stone and the violent arrest of Martese Johnson. More than many groups, University students should be beaten down by all the misfortune. But there has been quite an opposite reaction: the student body remains unjaded. We are able to keep a positive attitude because of an active administration, strong student organizations and a hopeful student body.
It is very clear from looking around the University community that students are far from jaded. Each new tragedy doesn’t elicit a frustrated silence — it produces gestures of solidarity and events advocating change. In the wake of the Paris attacks two separate vigils were held, one hosted by the French House and one by Student Council. Students gathered in a show of support for the activists at the University of Missouri and Yale.
How has the University remained resistant to being cynical? There seem to be a few key reasons. One of the big reasons is that the administration and professors are willing to work with students to create change. The protests at the University of Missouri show how key it is to have a college administration that is actively involved in student issues. University President Teresa Sullivan has done a good job of projecting a strong and responsive attitude toward problems around the University. Take, for example, the University’s non-compliance with Title IX from 2008 to 2012. Sullivan has hired a University Title IX Coordinator and sent multiple emails to students making clear what changes are being made and how these would affect them. As for educators, every year professors show a commitment to student issues through events like “Look Hoos Talking.”More informally, professors frequently address relevant topics in class and are willing to talk to students about issues during office hours. Professors and administrators could always do more, but as of now they are doing a great deal to create an environment where real change is possible.
Student organizations are the driving force against complacency at the University. The Black Student Alliance, Queer Student Union, Asian Student Union and many others play a vital role in creating change in the University community. These groups are crucial in putting on events like Black Monologues which raise awareness for issues while also giving people a platform to discuss them. Students might care about issues, but it is easy to let school and life distract from them. Student organizations should be encouraged to put on more events to give people a chance to become educated and address issues at the University.
The students themselves stand as the final reason the University community has avoided becoming jaded. Our generation genuinely believes we can enact change. Madison House alone has 3,000 volunteers, and many students find some form of charity to be involved in. This is partially because of a growing emphasis on community service for college applications. This creates an environment in which students see problems not as inevitable but something they can personally address. Admissions officers should continue to emphasize volunteering on college applications to grow this culture at the University, only making exceptions for applicants who come from a poorer socioeconomic background.
Overall, the University community has been fairly successful at keeping students engaged and interested in relevant issues despite the seemingly never-ending flood of disasters that may confront us. Students should take pride in the fact that activism has remained so healthy after the last few years of disappointments. However, it is dangerous to get too complacent. Just because we have a culture of activism at the University now doesn’t guarantee it will be there next year. This could lead to issues going unresolved until they explode into disruptful protests, like we are seeing around the country at this moment. Students need to keep the administration honest, push student organizations to take up issues and keep each other engaged in the midst of tragedies. Just because tragedies happen doesn’t mean that we have to accept them as inevitable. University students have proven that, and I hope they’ll prove it for years to come.
Bobby Doyle is an Opinion columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.