The Decline of Student Activism
// Claire McGillivray

Many students are basically uninterested in activism. They roll their eyes when professors and administrators attempt to stoke ‘change agent zeal,’” states Ashley Thorne, communications director of the National Association of Scholars in her essay entitled Beating the Apple Tree: How the University Coerces Activism.

Thorne boldly goes on to state that “[an] obstacle [she] ran into all semester was a general apathy among the students, manifested in their procrastination and lack of interest. True activists are activists because of a deep-seated passion and world view. People without that core commitment do not make good activists, and struggle to connect with those who do. Most of [her] students did not express interest in or concern for any issue, not even the rather ‘in’ topic of environmental activism, and therefore had no motivation to work for change.”

Are students apathetic or just bored? Perhaps these two states of mind seem relatively similar, but they’re not. As David Guretzki, Dean of the Seminary and Associate Professor of Theology at Briercrest College in Saskatchewan, writes, “Apathy means that someone just doesn’t care. Boredom, on the other hand, may mean that someone is simply unaware of something significant to care about.”

Although Guretzki goes on to use this concept in a passionate defense of religion and to warn individuals against “the dangers of sliding into a lackadaisical Laodicean apathy,” his statement rings true for individuals of all religious or non-religious persuasions. This links back to the question at hand. Are we ‘lost,’ as Guretzki implies, and is that why we are seeing a decline in student activism, or are we, as Thorne indicates, apathetic; simply lukewarm and indifferent?

In an essay by Harvard University graduate and State University of New York professor, Rachel Fix Dominguez, it is stated that “the scope of student activism has always been a point of contention for academics, despite the excellent quantitative work of researchers of higher education.” Dominguez explains that being an activist whilst maintaining academic success and maintaining an acceptable quality of life means being able to combine your passions and multitask. This gives us an apparent “how” to the question of student activism, but treading the middle ground doesn’t help us figure out the “why” behind a decline in student activism.

Apathy vs. boredom is highlighted in the film The Trotsky, a comedic social commentary by Montreal director Jacob Tierney. The film’s protagonist, brilliant but eccentric Leon Bronstein, is under the curious perception that he is a modern-day reincarnation of Leon Trotsky, and therefore must live out his life according to Trotsky’s monumental timeline. Leon desires to revolutionize his high school, even going as far to stage a campus-wide walkout. His downfall is when he faces the problem of student apathy vs. boredom. Jacob Tierney’s answer is clear: we are not apathetic, we are bored. Like the slightly younger versions of ourselves portrayed at Leon Bronstein’s high school, we are simply in dire need of a cause to be passionate about.

Take action. At the very least, we can seek out what Guretzki refers to as “something significant to care about.” If you disagree with something, speak up about it. If you have a passion, don’t mistrust it, follow up on it. If we remain still or silent then we really are screaming apathy. Wouldn’t screaming “fuck the man” be a little more titillating?

// Claire McGillivray, Writer
// Illustration by Kailey Patton

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