Reader submission by Evan Knappenberger
Halloween is hard on veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, especially in a college town like Bellingham. So, to escape the madness I went to the quietest place possible: the library. As I sat down with a fresh copy of The AS Review, the college kid across the room picked up his phone. “Yeah, I’m studying. No, I blacked out last night. Yeah I’ll get the keg.”
During the week of Halloween, several hundred students were cited or arrested by Bellingham police for party-related infractions. Reflecting on these trends leads to some disturbing conclusions. First and foremost is that students at Western are not taking their education seriously.
I asked a group of students in the Viking Union recently if they belonged to a union. They looked at me with a lame expression that seemed to say “Who do we look like, the janitors?” I patiently explained to them that VU stands for Viking Union and that the Associated Students is the students’ union, to which they pay dues. In other countries, being a student is a serious occupation. Student unions have been at the forefront of almost every major social reform in the twentieth century. Students in the Soviet Bloc were instrumental in organizing the demonstrations that led to political freedom for the rest of the people, often getting killed or maimed in the process. Students in Latin America have toppled dictators, won elections and reformed the economic landscape of the entire hemisphere. When I meet with Colin Watrin, the AS president, or Byron Starkey the VP for governmental affairs, it is obvious that they take themselves seriously. But all too often, students like Watrin and Starkey are the exception to the norms of Western life, where students melt into the social scene, the nightlife or the virtual world of Facebook.
The students’ general disengagement from civic life has a variety of harmful effects on the university. Their lack of political action has led to the current budget cuts which are chipping away at degree programs, faculty, student aid and campus services. A more grave concern is that by unconsciously living in an “ivory-tower bubble” they alienate themselves from the rest of society and give a bad name to students everywhere. Those that live outside the bubble, like members of the tea party, who want to stop all funding for higher education already have an image of students as worthless, and there is not much being done by anyone to challenge that impression.
Granted, the university does take a sterile approach to student activism. Administrators are partly to blame for the social problems in our community. They routinely suppress student speech through the use of ironically-termed “free speech zones” and a variety of other bureaucratic methods. But this doesn’t excuse us from our failures to speak up as students.
What happened Western? When did students stop thinking of themselves as the vanguard of liberal values? When did college come to be about parties, sex and anything except learning how to be an engaged member of society? I challenge each and every student at Western to get involved in something serious. Go to AS offices such as the Social Issues Resource Center, the Veterans Outreach Center and the Ethnic Student Center, or community organizations such as the Whatcom Peace & Justice Center or the Whatcom Volunteer Center and see what you can do to make a difference in the community. There are dozens of programs that need your help right now. If you can’t chisel out a little time from your riotous youth to help those outside of the college community, there may be nobody around to help you when you too end up living in the real world.
Evan Knappenberger is a disabled veteran and a recent graduate of Whatcom Community College hoping to transfer to Western.