Where were we?

We might not be able to save General College, but we can demand more influence in the future.

Sam Adegoke

As I sat in the Black Student Union office contemplating what seems to be the “calm after the storm” regarding the General College issue, I started wondering how the hell this even happened. Like for real Ö how did this happen? Where were we? By “we” I mean the University’s student body at large and by “where” I am referring to the magical place where all of these “strategic” decisions are made. Why were the opinions, concerns and suggestions of the student body not acquiesced before all of these changes? And why does it seem as if all of the decisions regarding us never really involve us?

I think it’s time we start asking questions and demanding answers.

In my last column, I received some backlash because of a comment I made stating that I personally felt there was nothing we could do to alter the decisions regarding the future of our campus, specifically with regard to General College. Well, regardless of whom I offended, I meant just what I stated, but I will explain further.

Issues as large as the reconfiguration of the entire infrastructure of a campus do not happen overnight. The University’s plan for the future has been in the works at least since I was a first-year student four years ago. With a decision of this magnitude, I highly doubt the campus leadership has not already considered the repercussions and opposition it might face in its attempts to execute its ideals. That would be like going to war and not planning on the enemy fighting back. It doesn’t make sense.

In that light, I will say I feel the rally last week for saving General College was inconsequential, dare I even say meaningless. By “inconsequential,” please understand I am connecting it to the impact it had on reversing the decision to remove General College. The rally was very meaningful with regard to campus morale, because any event that galvanizes people of diverse backgrounds into one setting for one cause can only have positive effects. But until we are ready to use “alternative means” to effect the changes we want, we will receive nothing more for our mediocre efforts than pats on the back and “high spirits” from public shows of picketing and yelling through loudspeakers.

Alternative means are revolutionary. In 1969, numerous black students frustrated with their isolation on campus and a general lack of respect for their needs, organized a sit-in and take-over of Morrill Hall that lasted two days. They had three non-negotiable demands centering on black scholarships and the establishment of an African American and African studies program at the University.

They got what they wanted. They demanded, set an ultimatum and took drastic measures to see their needs were met. So before you get upset and ask what audacity I have to call a campus rally meaningless, ask yourself this: Are you ready to do the same? Would you go the length for something you believed in to the extent of an occupation? Until we are ready to take as drastic a measure as the students of 1969 and do something such as a sit-in at General College, where we refuse to move until our demands are met, I strongly suggest we stop wasting our time with rallies that change nothing.

Call it counterintuitive that I am advocating for the improvement and continued establishment of General College while saying there is nothing we can do to keep it. I am a realist. What we can do now is ask the questions I asked before, “Why is it that all of the decisions regarding us fail to include us?” We need to look to the future for amendment. We need to start demanding the University include us as students in all major decision-making, including tuition rates, legislation, “strategic positioning” campus planning, future initiatives and student resources. Our rivals next door, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, have had a student-body elect who works closely with campus leadership, officials and the university president in all major decisions and campus alterations. Not only do the students have a close relationship, in fact, it is a law, instituted in the late 1970s, in Wisconsin, that campus leadership includes students in all major campus decisions, tuition changes and legislation.

We cannot change the decision, but we can prevent future situations such as this from happening. If we fail to demand a voice, we will never have one, and I have been told you cease to exist the moment you bite your tongue. Let’s make sure that the next time around, we have a say in the decisions made about our education.

Sam Adegoke welcomes comments at [email protected]