Plastered on a bulletin board in Outlook’s Newsroom is a poster that reads: “Where has student activism gone?”
Campus has seen its fair share of protests over the years. In 1954, students fought so furiously against the signing of the Baghdad Pact that Main Gate had to be chained in order to contain the demonstrations. Following 1954 came a number of noteworthy protests, the most conspicuous being the 1974 student occupation of all University buildings as a direct response to the tuition fee increase. They remained on strike for 21 days. 1998, 2010, and 2014 saw sit-ins staged that also aimed to contest a surge in tuition fees. In November of 2013, hundreds of students stood in solidarity with Gaza in one of the largest ever AUB-based student protests.
More recently, in both 2015 and 2016, students assembled to protest Nestle Toll House’s presence on campus. The demonstrations were more monitored and supervised than they had been in the past, and students were even threatened with Dean’s warnings.
Where is all the activism now?
I believe that AUB student activism has diminished drastically as a result of two major factors: our presence online rather than on-the-ground, and inherent apprehension to speak out, for fear of consequences and repercussions by the administration. A Facebook post has become the norm in speaking out against injustice, and is sometimes replacing on-the-ground action, but words carry far more power than we give them credit for. Words are not always enough, though. We need movement and action.
The trepidation to voice issues and concerns and act upon them is transforming student anger into student apathy. How has active participation converted so rapidly into passive observation? How have we become so consciously indifferent to matters that affect us so directly? Why are we this disengaged from pressing social issues? It is tiring attempting to engage in discourse with a student body that mostly does not care, or is too afraid to care.
There is a severe lack of communication between students and the administration. There even exists a barrier between the students and the USFC that hinders the ability for significant and valuable exchanges and interactions.
Our freedom to express is often limited to bureaucratic processes. Direct contact has not yet been adequately established, and we often need to gain approval before articulating worries and ideas.
The Speaker’s Corner, for example, an Outlook initiative that began as a free-speech movement providing students with a platform to voice their thoughts on a variety of topics, now requires for the administration to consent to the topics wishing to be discussed. To me, this is counterintuitive.
If we are not expressing all the thoughts and feelings of the students, then we are not doing our job. We have an obligation to all students at AUB, one that encourages and welcomes honest, unfiltered student worries and concerns.
If we are not being vocal, who will?
There is no room for silence in a country so loud. There is no time for reticence in such a dire period.
And so, I return to the million-dollar question, but this time I ask, how long before student activism returns? To me, it already has.
Shout it from the rooftops. We are here.