In response to “The University needs to revive student activism”

In our Sept. 28 Letter to the Editor (“The University needs to revive student activism”), we lamented the lack of student activism on campus and called for more cooperation among student organizations and greater involvement by all students in general. Our article, rather unsurprisingly, was met with various challenges, most of which we believe are unwarranted. With the hopes of clarifying our main points and to continue a healthy conversation, we would like to list some of the criticisms of our article and respond to them.

Public schools tend to be more vocal. The claim that private universities are generally less politically active because their student body tends to be more conservative might be true, but it cannot fully explain the experience of USC. As such, we politely disagree that students in public universities are more vocal compared to their private counterparts. If this were true, how could we explain Columbia University in the 1960s, where protests erupted in response to the alleged connection of the university with the American government during the Vietnam War? Or how could we explain the dozens of elite private universities that had chapters of Students for a Democratic Society? Similarly, how can we explain public schools that are apolitical? We chose to discuss UC Berkeley not because it is a public institution, but because it is familiar to us and because we wanted to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement, a gesture we thought important as the anniversary went mostly ignored by the media.

Our “true intentions” are for students to be more vocal in favor of “liberal causes.” We will politely disagree with this statement in full. The examples we use in our article included rape, sexual assault and discrimination (perhaps even racism) but we were accused of calling for a “specific activism.”  But it is not clear to us what is precisely “liberal” or “left-wing” about these issues, as the comments imply. We are not asking students to share our opinions. We explicitly state that we want more activism from both the Right and the Left and all their variants. Our overall argument is that no real voices are heard and our main concern is isolated activism. As stated in our article, the Free Speech Movement would have not been successful if it weren’t for the unified participation of political organizations ranging from the Young Socialists to the Young Republicans.

Why rape, sexual assault, racism and discrimination? Comments on our article questioned why we would like to see more activism dealing with these issues as opposed to other issues. We were questioned as to why we don’t call for action in the following cases: when Governor Brown allowed undocumented migrants to acquire drivers  licenses, Obama’s delayed response to the threat of ISIS, and the control of unions on local and state budgets, among other issues. While these are all important (and we truly believe they are), we chose rape, sexual assault, racism and discrimination because they affect many USC students in a direct way. Have any of your students been raped and forced to continue attending school with their perpetrator? Ours have. The examples mentioned in the comments, we believe, are less connected to the daily functioning of the campus and students. That doesn’t mean that they are less important, but we are talking about the issues that are at our doorsteps. Call us biased, but we care more about students getting raped than undocumented migrants being able to drive to work. Again, they are not irrelevant issues, just less pertinent to our article.

In closing, we would like to point out that apathy is not conservative, as suggested by comments. Both Left and Right organizations on campus are sparsely supported. Additionally, our argument was not meant to be partisan as also suggested by some comments. In our opinion, commentators disagreeing with our position seem to put ideology above our common community on campus. And this is what we are striving for: a common community where all ideologies agree on cases of clear violations of human rights.

Universities are, at heart, institutions built to help students understand the world, question conventional wisdom, and foster a community of learning and development. If students of any and all political persuasions are not questioning, campaigning and conversing on all kinds of social issues, then the university has failed its mission. If students are aware of horrible tragedies that violate human rights, but are not moved to do something about it, then this is both a moral failing of the student, and a failure of the university to foster a sufficiently close Trojan Family (a recent survey by the USG found that 29 percent of Black students have a low sense of belonging on campus). One cannot expand one’s intellectual understanding without developing one’s emotional understanding. Too often, we believe, USC students are receiving information but not an education. We can see it in the lack of action, or what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called “the fierce urgency of now,” when our community most needs people not to walk by on the other side.

Juve J. Cortes

Cameron Espinoza 

Department of Political Science 

4 replies
  1. Benjamin Roberts
    Benjamin Roberts says:

    Vigilant readers will notice that this is almost assuredly a direct response to my comments on the original post. I stand by those comments, and the mere fact that they triggered such specific response serves only to confirm that I’ve elevated the debate and caused the writers to explain themselves.

    Unfortunately this response simply restates the views expressed in the original piece, and offers nothing new. I’m unmoved. I clearly disagree with the writers in terms of issues that matter, or should matter, to students at USC. No one, including me, suggested that issues like rape, sexual assault, discrimination or racism are not important issues. Of course they are. However I believe that students at USC should also be very interested in and aware of the issues that I raised, and for the writers to suggest that they are “not as important” to students at USC is incredibly ignorant, narrow-minded and short-sighted to me. First of all, many students at USC are in fact from out of state, if not from out of the country, and will likely be in college for 4 to 6 years of their lives. The issues I raised will not only impact them directly now, as Californians and Americans, but for years to come. Even USC’s international students would be well-served to educate themselves on these larger issues that affect them as adults and human beings… not just students at USC.

    I will apologize for one thing, and that is that I MAY have been incorrect in my belief that the writers are really only interested in more activism if said activism mirrors their own beliefs or political points of view. It is possible that the writers would like to see more activism even if it presents opposing views. However, my position remains a likely possibility given their response published here, and the somewhat antagonistic approach to my fair and reasoned comments.

    Difference of opinion is inevitable, if not important. Again, my positions are reasoned and objective. They are not offered in the abstract, but are a reflection of my experiences. It’s amazing how, as a college student, you reflect back on your high school years almost with embarrassment at the things that seemed important at the time. Then, when you’re my age, you look back at your college years, realizing the same thing, and remembering the many empty voices making so much sound. It’s sort of sad.

  2. Thekatman
    Thekatman says:

    You mean to say “rooted in tradition”.

    USC is traditionally a conservative school. If you want a progressive liberal oriented education, you should’ve gone to UCLA. Most USC students are politically and culturally aware, but are not interested in running their mouth about issues they don’t care about. What issues should USC students be protesting about these days?

    1. LGBT activism?
    2. Femininazi activism?
    3. The POTUS lies of the past 6 years, and those since he was in college at Occidental?
    4. The Federal Reserve destroying the purchasing value of the dollar?
    5. Nancy Pelosi and president Obama lying to the American public about The Affordable Care Act and how they couldn;t pass it if American knew what was in it?
    6. The lies about the involvement of Jonathan Gruber in the Obama Administration?

    7. The fact that Barack Hussein Obama is a pathological liar and a sociopath?

    Pick any topic…..

    • Sxrx$h K Nandyala
      Sxrx$h K Nandyala says:

      Yes, this is an exact microcosm of the problem I am talking about, the mentality that the best course of action is always to repeat the path of your predecessors. If you disagree, then you made a mistake.

      The younger crowd finds it much more difficult to maintain such a position when we have access to the wealth of information that is out there.

      Whose opinion do you listen to, that of your students? Or someone who is a recognizable parrot of republican talking points?

      No offense.

  3. Sxrx$h K Nandyala
    Sxrx$h K Nandyala says:

    there is an identity crisis, between being a modern west coast school pushing the boundaries and trying to be an east coast school rooted in traditionality and maintaining the status quo

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