Record of student apathy is pathetic

Apathy. Thousands of University students are suffering from it. Some of them think the University experience revolves around partying all day and all night — only leaving their apartments to go for more beer. Some of them prefer to play Sega in their dormitory rooms instead of going to class and are completely oblivious to the world around them. The fact that many students on this campus disconnect themselves from the University should be disturbing to all of us.
This column might be more compelling coming at the beginning of fall quarter. Usually, people are more fired up to tear through the University bureaucracy at the start of a new year. But an editorial on the first day of classes last September encouraged students to get involved in the University’s future because of the groundbreaking things that would be happening this year. Very few answered the call.
For a few years now, campus groups like the Progressive Student Organization, The Minnesota Daily and the Minnesota Student Association have been looking for ways to increase student involvement on campus. Editorials and stories have been filled with pleas for student leaders to somehow engage the rest of the student body in matters that affect them.
But I’m beginning to think that we’ve been too hard on MSA members and other student leaders. The campus is full of opportunities for student involvement on campus, but people on this campus today are either too busy to take them or expect others to do their work for them.
And it’s time for this attitude to stop.
Students on this campus frankly have no excuse not to participate in school activities. There are more than 450 student organizations on campus that perform professional, academic and public service purposes. In addition, the MSA has 82 elected positions and a volunteer program that helps students get involved in more campus issues.
The Prospective Leaders Among New Students program takes 80 to 100 students each fall and educates them about ways they can get involved in governance at the University. Karen Alexander, administrative officer for the MSA, said that many of the people who participate in this program go on to serve in the organization. As a matter of fact, two recently-elected committee chairs were part of the program in years past.
For graduate students, the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly also presents a way for students to get involved in the issues that affect them. Along with MSA, GAPSA sends representatives to the University administrators to enunciate their concerns and needs.
But if student government isn’t your bag, then explore some of the honorary societies or other student groups on campus. Many of them would surprise you. The Campus Involvement Center on the third floor of Coffman Memorial Union has information about the Philosophy Journal Group, the Composer’s Alliance, the Culture Club of India or the Meditations Club.
Go visit the cultural centers. We’re quick to jump on the fees committees each year for spending money on these activities. Granted they might only serve a small population of the school, but they could make a bigger impact if students campus-wide would be willing to get involved.
Furthermore, I dare say many of us don’t even know where the money we spend is going. If we spent a little more time learning about campus activities, we might be less likely to criticize.
For example, a number of agencies on campus have solicited student input on issues that directly affect the student body. An average of 20 students have attended each of the food service forums held on campus, and about the same number attended a meeting to get students’ views on Coffman Memorial Union renovations. About 10,000 students travel through Coffman Memorial Union every day, yet a hardly measurable number of people were left to represent them.
Go to an MSA Forum meeting and you will see a Daily reporter and a handful of students in the audience. Even last fall during the Margaret Sanger controversy, the audience consisted of the same people, though a debate was raging on The Minnesota Daily’s opinions page.
The lack of student support physically at the meetings of these organizations sends a message that students don’t care. It’s great that people are sending things to the Daily — I wish they would send more. But it’s not enough. We have to make a concerted effort to show our interest in things.
The next time someone asks you to go to a lecture or forum about a public issue, don’t assume that enough people will be there to represent you. How hard can it be to haul yourself down and find a seat? Take control of the issues that affect your life. Don’t let other people speak for you.
It’s easy to look at the MSA with cynicism and say, “They don’t do anything. They don’t have any power to change anything at the University.” But look at the task that they have. MSA representatives must convince University administrators that they should care about keeping tuition low or executing a better book buy-back program. They have no power to make anyone listen to them — yet they keep going back, and they keep striving to make things better for you and me. Why? Because they care about the University. We, at least, owe them some respect for tackling a nearly impossible job.
Throughout this year’s MSA presidential race, candidates suggested that the organization is out of touch with student interests. But MSA candidates and members during the past couple election cycles have been conducting round-table discussions and other focus-group-type situations to try and elicit student comment. The leaders are trying to identify student problems, but some of the students aren’t holding up their ends of the bargain.
Furthermore, an abysmally low percentage of students participate in MSA elections. From 1994 to 1996, voter turnout steadily rose. But this year, only 6 percent of the student body turned out — less than half of last year’s figures.
If our interests aren’t being represented, we have no one to blame for it but ourselves.
So what’s my point? Get involved. If you’re upset about maintaining the status quo at the University, stand up and say something. If you don’t become a part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

Michelle Kibiger is an associate editor at the Daily.