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Student activism should not be put down

Letter to Editor

I’m writing in response to a letter to the editor published in The Daily Targum on April 30 titled, “Student protests lack necessary strength, persistence.”

It seems that condescension in letter to the editor writing has reached new heights. The author had a great time poo-pooing the students from Monday’s sit-in, making some severely flawed points along the way.

I came across this article on Twitter, so you can imagine the irony when I found the author writing so dismissively about social media: “The protesters seem to have concluded that coming up with catchy Twitter hashtags and spamming the student body’s emails can replace actual activism.” To this I say: come join us in the 21st century! Social media is the home of activism.

The author goes on to say: “Does anyone seriously think that President Robert L. Barchi or the Board of Governors supports the war in Iraq or waterboarding suspected terrorists?” This is entirely off base. Barchi and the Board of Governors are entitled to believe whatever they want. No one cares. No one’s protesting that. But when they speak for the University and decide to give someone an honorary degree, this is when the Rutgers community can and should speak out and demand an explanation.

What most upset me about this article was its misdirected criticism. The author makes this undermining, sweeping statement: “Today’s counterculture quits the cause as soon as their tummies start rumbling — besides, their parents would be so angry if they failed a course.” I’d disagree and say not that today’s culture quit the cause, but that it never joined a cause in the first place. An exception, of course, is these student protesters who the author labels as “incompetent,” “pathetic” “would-be champions of social justice” and “sweaty and hungry campus totalitarians.” But let’s turn our attention away from the roughly 160 protesters to the other nearly 30,000 undergraduates at Rutgers. How many of them do you see apathetic, shrugging their shoulders at issues such as this one? This is the culture. These are the ones that deserve criticism: The seniors graduating in a few weeks who were more enraged by the selling of tickets for Senior Days than they were with the topic of who the commencement speaker would be. The seniors claiming senioritis as their excuse for skipping class for happy hour. That there were so few protesters at the sit-in on Monday does nothing to prove the student body is in support of Rice as commencement speaker. All it does is tell us our student culture fails to care.

Several times, the author references the University protests of the 1960s, but the key fact the author failed to point out was that protesting was part of the 1960s culture — they cared back then. A feeling of dissatisfaction with the world had swept the entire youth culture, sparking widespread protest (far from non-violent, by the way). Today, apathy is the norm. And it’s not just students — news stations over the past few days have spent considerably more time reporting on the Sterling scandal than on the kidnapped girls in Nigeria or any other global, newsworthy story. So now, isn’t it just even more remarkable that this group of passionate students, surrounded by our culture of apathy, stood up and spoke out?

I’d tell my fellow seniors: We only get one commencement speaker. Join the protesters or start a counter protest. Inform yourself at the very least, even if only to please the author of Wednesday’s letter who wants a better performance and to prevent future letters like that one from printing in the Targum.

Colleen Thiersch is a School of Engineering senior majoring in biomedical engineering with a minor in English.

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