From words to action

College students turned up in dissapointing numbers at the anti-war protest.

I have been an undergraduate at the University longer than most professors have had tenure. While serving my time I have gone from taking an apathetic view on most issues of general importance to staving to have an opinion and take action according to my beliefs. Several years ago I was registered for a course in medieval history. It was an evening course, held once a week on the West Bank. I took this course out of interest in the subject matter and a desire to meet the history requirements of my program. Joel Przybilla, a basketball recruit out of Monticello, was in the class and coming to a university that had just experienced national embarrassment from academic fraud involving the basketball team.

The first night of class, the professor invited everyone to share what they were interested in learning about. Classmates shouted out, “Charlemagne” and “Byzantine Empire,” as we slowly made our way through all the students. Sitting near the back, Joel still stood out, towering above his classmates even while seated. When it came time for Joel to share with the class what he wanted to learn about, I have no doubt he felt more uncomfortable than he did center stage at Williams Arena. Sheepishly, Joel stammered that he was interested in learning about castles. The class got a kick out of this and snickers came from all parts of the room. Instead of encouraging Przybilla, the professor informed the entire class that, “in my classroom, athletes get no special privileges.” I, someone who has attended one basketball game in my life, was appalled. How could any student succeed if even the professor is out to get you? I didn’t speak with Joel, or the professor, or object to his public humiliation. Instead, I walked out of class without saying a word. Last week my girlfriend’s cousin, an eighth-grader, called needing an adult to accompany her and a few classmates to the anti-war protest. They were opposed to war and wanted to walk out of their classes and join fellow students across the city at Coffman Union. I had the afternoon free and am opposed to the war myself, so I decided to take a stand in front of my classmates and support these impressionable young girls. The only problem was my classmates weren’t there. I’ve heard plenty of anti-war talk in classes and the hallways, yet the college demographic at the protest seemed limited to those who were fortunate enough to have their digital camera on them so they could take a picture or two as the protesters passed. The girls, however, more than made up for the absence of their older brothers and sisters. After hanging out on the fringe of the crowd during the rally, they got right in the middle of the march and jubilantly shouted out the many catchy phrases organizers had taught the group during the rally.

More than that, they made it a learning opportunity by asking questions like: “What is a class war?” “Why are there so many police officers?” “Why are some protesters wearing masks?” In half the time it has taken me to lend a public voice to my opinions, the four girls I watched over had found theirs. Apathy is battle in all of our lives. It is easy to not care; to walk out without saying a word. It takes courage and conviction to stand in front of one’s peers to do and say what you believe. Perhaps the rising level of schizophrenia in the United States is a result of our inability to translate our thoughts and emotions into action. We let down our little brothers and sisters last week when we didn’t join them and encourage them to exercise freedom of speech. More than that, we let down ourselves.

Nicholas Seeberger is a University student. Please send comments to [email protected]