Being a student should never get in the way of being an engaged citizen

As campus, country, world demand action, take your education outside of the classroom

· Nov 29, 2016 Tweet

Marissa Haegele/The Badger Herald

On a campus so alive with activism, eerie, apathetic silence is deafening.

Nearly 50 years ago, as the Vietnam War raged on, our university gained its reputation as a campus saturated with passionate, engaged citizens. In the midst of an exceptionally tumultuous international climate, students woke up in the morning, got dressed, and said “today, to hell with school.”

Throughout the 1960s, professors worked with students to organize teach-ins on the war, and Madison remains nationally recognized for student-led protests on Vietnam and on Dow Chemical Company. They marched, fought and faced arrest. They chanted on Bascom Hill, organized on Library Mall and, after losing a professor to a bomb blast in 1970, wept in Sterling Hall.

With no motive to do so, these students unknowingly built a reputation for this school that none of us helped to build, but yet are so proud of. Unfortunately — or fortunately, depending on how you look at it — reputations require a pretty serious amount of action and commitment to preserve.

If you haven’t spent the majority of this school year either angry, frustrated or heartbroken, you haven’t been paying very much attention.

Since spring 2016, our campus has not ceased to be vexed by hate and violence. Hate and bias incidents follow sexual assault after sexual assault.

University acknowledges spike in bias incident reports, urges students to show respectOver the past week, the University of Wisconsin has received 16 bias incident reports. In comparison, there were 66 incidents Read…

On campus, we are still reeling from the shock of discovering that we shared streets with a serial rapist who allegedly abused at least seven women at UW. Though his story is the only one to gain national traction, rest assured that our crisis with sexual assault at this school will not rot in jail alongside him — one in four college girls will face sexual assault during her time here. The university remains under federal investigation for its handling of these cases. He was not the first, and he will not be the last.

Waves of xenophobia and intolerance have broken down any remaining façade of a “post-racial society,” washing through every corner of the country, pooling in the streets of Washington, D.C., flooding the halls of the White House as the nation holds the doors open to a misogynistic, hateful bigot.

Ten hours west, thousands weep. For months they have slept, now wrapped in the icy embrace of a biting North Dakota winter, on Standing Rock reservation, protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline. As allies flock from every corner of the country to support the Lakota Sioux tribe as they risk their lives for the protection of their sacred land and primary source of water, DAPL workers threaten innocent, nonviolent protesters with water guns, tear gas, attack dogs and rubber bullets. Hundreds are hospitalized while thousands grit their teeth, bear the pain of their injuries and hold onto their loved ones as they push onward.

Activism is no stranger to campus, but apathy is. It is so easy to hide behind the shield of schoolwork, finding every escape route to avoid facing the chaos burning on the other side of the library window. But the purpose of a college education is not to advance one’s own academic record for the sake of an impressive GPA bolded on a resumé — at least, it shouldn’t be. Being a student and being an active, informed citizen are not mutually exclusive, but today, if the former is inhibiting your ability to be the latter, it’s okay to realign your priorities for the time being.

Historians will write about this moment.

We will watch our children write papers about 2016 America. You don’t want to tell them that you were busy writing papers in 2016 America.

To have the money and resources to be full-time students at a world-class university means we have a responsibility to ourselves and our families to make school a priority; to sacrifice sleep and often a social life in pursuit of the grades we know we can push ourselves to attain; to come away with degrees we pledge to use to make a positive, lasting impact; to give back to a world which, by some miraculous stroke of fate, or luck, or God, awarded us this unfathomable abundance of opportunities. So school comes first.

Until it doesn’t.

You don’t need to wait until your diploma is safe in your hands before contributing something to the world if the world is on its knees, broken and begging you for your help.

It has never been more important to shut your textbooks and get outside than it is at this exact moment. Perhaps you don’t have the resources to donate money to Planned Parenthood or organize a trip to Standing Rock, but you can surely educate yourself. Lectures are popping up left and right, all over campus, on the same issues the rest of the country is grappling with. Skip your discussion and realize this is the conversation we need to be a part of, the conversation we need to be leading.

Lives and human rights are unquestionably under attack. Our planet is literally gasping for air. If you’re looking for the point where school might slip to second place, giving way to fighting for basic tenets of equality and justice which should have been established centuries ago, I’m not sure what more you need to see.

Regardless of how you lean politically, irrespective of your major or your exam schedule, be active, productive and vigilant. For God’s sake, be anything but apathetic.

I’m not suggesting we collectively abandon all academic responsibilities. But I’m thinking there might be something out there more deserving of your time, and of your mind, than completing this week’s problem set. Your GPA will be fine. But as our alumni from the ’60s knew then, and as we sure as hell know now, our future may not be.

Yusra Murad ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in psychology.


This article was published Nov 29, 2016 at 10:47 am and last updated Nov 28, 2016 at 11:16 pm


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