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Student demonstrators in the rainy weather protesting outside of Coffman Memorial Union on Tuesday.
Photos from April 23 protests
Published April 23, 2024

Reducing student apathy step by step

The rampant apathy among college students is not surprising. The degree to which this condition manifests itself, however – as recently I learned when a friend involved in several student groups quipped, “So that Max Page guy won (the MSA presidency)?” – often is.

Apathy has not defeated everyone. This Friday and Monday, thousands of high school and college students will take action by walking out of class and demanding that America’s axis of apathetic powers reverse course.

The axis of apathy consists of leaders who use their power to create an environment valuing lethargy and indifference over activism and critical thought. When the University makes crucial decisions over the summer, we’re taught student input is unimportant. When it ignores polls showing that Minnesotans consider becoming a “top-three research university” not important, we’re taught that popular opinion doesn’t matter. When it releases news about Bob Bruininks’ pay raise the Friday before spring break, we’re taught that there is no need to question his performance.

When the Bush administration releases damaging news on Friday nights, we’re taught that remaining uninformed is acceptable. When Republicans and Democrats ignore young voices in favor of corporate money, they reinforce that our opinions don’t matter. From the Eastcliff mansion to the White House, our so-called leaders deliver the clear message that apathy is the most preferable state of mind.

The University and the Bush administration, disturbingly, have more in common than the promotion of apathy. Both primarily operate on the profit motive. While oil companies and corporations are awarded no-bid contracts after record profits, the United States continues to divert money from education and social needs into the military industrial complex. The $275 billion spent on the war so far could have paid tuition completely for all of America’s undergraduates several times over. Meanwhile, the University allows dishonest corporations such as Coca-Cola and Aramark to hold on-campus monopolies, sending even more of our money into the accounts of execrable executives.

This is what happens when students are treated as potential profit rather than real people. We are truly seen as customers first. Surfing through the (embarrassingly meager) list of student job postings online, I discovered one in the Office of Admissions for a “Customer Relations Representative.” We are not customers; we are not piles of money. We are human. We have the responsibility to take action. On Friday a coalition led by Youth Against War and Racism will do so. After a noon rally on Northrop plaza, we will march through downtown Minneapolis to Minneapolis Community and Technical College and Loring Park. There will be anger and frustration, hope, optimism and live music.

Our demands are encapsulated in three words: College, Not Combat. The occupation of Iraq must end, and the money used to liberate the millions without adequate health care, educational opportunities, or employment here at home. Military recruitment must stop so youths are no longer tricked into choosing violence over opportunity. Fear-based attacks on civil liberties and immigrants’ rights must cease, which is why Youth Against War and Racism endorses the nationwide general strike of immigrants, students and allies on May 1. Action, empowerment and education will create a better future. Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.” The refusal to adequately fund schools, the pricing out of poor youths from college and the dismantling of entry points to education for underprivileged minorities are are human rights violations. Bruininks and Bush, in turn, are not merely poor presidents, but also human rights violators. On Friday join thousands of us in letting them know the efforts of their axis of apathy have failed.

Brian Hokanson is a member of Youth Against War and Racism and a University student. Please send comments to [email protected].

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