Activism is such an easy thing to support but often very difficult to sustain. It’s almost like rooting for the New York Knicks, only the Knicks rarely deliver. But over the past few years, it’s important to note that Stony Brook’s once purely apathetic campus has become a bit more aware of what’s going on locally and nationally.
It would be unfathomable to think that multiple protests would take place just five years ago in a given academic year, let alone a specific semester. But with groups like the Radical Student Union, an Undergraduate Student Government administration that is slightly more keen to actually taking student considerations into mind and the few student unions that include the Graduate Student Employee Union and Research Assistant Union, the Stony Brook campus has become home to very small minority of active dissidents.
Again, it’s a small minority of students on a campus of more than 20,000 students overall. But movements don’t begin with large grandstands, thousand-man marches or success. And it’s also safe to say that also is true of the politically involved students on this campus, in that many are small, scattered and haven’t really attained anything to their name.
The closest group in achieving success happened to be the few hundred Southampton students who made headway in fighting to keep their campus open. But despite the Stony Brook administration failing to meet the proper protocol, Stony Brook’s sister campus was shut down just around this time last year.
What illustrated this best was the question and answer forum during Ralph Nader’s lecture on Tuesday, March 22 in the SAC. Nader, a former three-time presidential candidate, urged for students to make their plugs and entertained a range of questions.
Even Nader was surprised at the number of groups on campus that gave their plugs, from the Environmental Club, the RSU or the Social Justice Alliance as well as plethora of more focus-related groups. But that’s part of the problem. There is no central leadership and the major groups on this campus operate, often with similar agendas, but in multiple different directions that rarely intertwine or intersect.
It’s reflective not of just this campus, but of Generation Y as a whole. Taking into account the disparity of rising tuition versus oppressive dictatorships, a case in point is role of the youth heavily involved in the Middle East protests to the complacency of today’s American youth.
“In the Middle East, the young people realize something you don’t realize—that first you text message and email and then you hit the streets,” said Nader, who has built up a 33-year career of consumer activism. “Here you text message and email and email and text message and text message and email so you’re not used to going out on the streets. That’s the only thing that gets a politician’s attention is when people are so worried about their situation [and] they amass in the streets.”
Between Stony Brook’s own budget cuts, tuition hikes and fee raises, let alone a current administration that has tallied a track record against students (see: Stony Brook Southampton, staunch support of PHEEIA and lack of student involvement in Project 50), there’s a number of areas for students to rally around and let their voice be heard. And it’s better heard through action, not through some poorly worded and very misleading student government survey.
Again, going back to Nader: “It’s really remarkable how undeveloped students are,” he said during an interview with The Press. Of course they don’t have much experience because they’re young but access to all kinds of information that challenges the power structure and they don’t seem to absorb it in terms of changing their own routines and their own sense of what needs to be done for [their] own future in this country and this world.”
Which is why The Press is endorsing what Nader had initially proposed in 1992, a college-level civics education course. One of the many organizations Nader founded, the Center for Responsive Law published a book, “Civics for Democracy: A Journey for Teachers and Students,” focuses on just that, touching on a variety of social movements that took place in our country’s history.
Nader’s philosophy is that we go to school in a corporate environment. A lot of us take classes, some of us will pass exams and few of us will graduate. After that, we look for a job, and that’s it. There are accounting classes, information technology studies and computer science courses that all will inevitably lead to a job in some big business. And that’s fine, but when we educate ourselves for one purpose—to get a job.
“You’re not having a liberal arts education, you’re not addressing the big pictures, you’re not addressing historical precedents that improved our country so you can extend them and above all you don’t study a lot of reality in the social sciences,” said Nader.
Which is why, in theory, a civics education course would remedy that. How many students know how to submit a Freedom of Information request, let alone know what it is? Or how to effectively petition or what their U.S. Senators and local congressman are doing or saying? Not many.
So we are asking students and those interested to contact President Samuel L. Stanley, Provost Erik Kaler, Professor Michael Barnhart, Chair of the History department, and Dr. Jeffrey Segal, Chair of the Political Science department to work towards offering such a course at Stony Brook.
And before we come off unreasonably demanding courses amidst a time of state budget cuts, we realize that, if anything, these cuts against public higher education should propel an intensive civic course into fruition. It’s one thing to get a job, and it’s another to learn your rights and the power within them.
“You grow up thinking you can’t do it and the power structure is too hard and that’s exactly what they want you to believe because then you don’t even try because you magnify the opposition,” said Nader. “But once you get organized nothing can stop you. You got more energy, you got more of a state because you’re young, you’re usually idealistic and you can get information at your fingertips and there are millions of you—what are you waiting for?
Right on, Ralph.