Apathy in the Class of 2017

by Simon Mehari

During my time here at OES, I have constantly heard remarks from various students, adults, and alumni about my grade—in particular, about it being extremely apathetic in comparison to other grades.

To an extent, these remarks are valid — and people are certainly allowed to express their opinions — but I think it’s time that the grade I represent is defended.

Here is what provoked me to write this article: It was a mix of disgust to the people who have generalized my grade and reading an article in the Huffington Post, written by Gabrielle Grow.

The introduction to Grow’s article quotes a UC Davis student who, “told me he hoped a campus-wide relief effort [to Haiti] would help prove that ours is not an apathetic generation. The idea of my generation being remembered as apathetic does not sit well with me.”

In general terms, I would argue that my grade does not have a lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern. I think people in my grade have a genuine concern about certain topics and I would argue that they are not apathetic. We aren’t as public in the way we fight apathy, but that doesn’t defer from the fact that people still care — it’s just not as obvious.

The concern is that my grade is apathetic towards more controversial topics that affect millions of people. People claim that I am a member a cohort of students that does not care about issues of racial, sexual orientation, and other global concerns. Junior Arianna R. states, “There is definitely a common understanding that our grade is apathetic, and unfortunately, that understanding is pretty accurate. ”

I asked Isabele R, in what ways is the idea that juniors are apathetic countered?

She replied with, “I think ultimately the apathy that the junior class is known for is countered when students like Maya C. and Daniel E. run for Student Body President with as much energy as they have been running with so far. Both of them are bringing some spirit to their representation of the class of 2017, and that’s probably a good thing. We need more kids like them setting that kind of example.”

* * *

Here is where I will agree with the people who claim that my cohort of students is apathetic. We, as a class, are significantly less open and comfortable to share with a greater group of students the ideas we have about certain “controversial” topics.  

I don’t know if this hesitation derives from fear or concern of ridicule about their ideas, but it does exists and I think it’s important to note.

The argument that I have gotten into with certain members of the Class of 2016 is that, because most people in my grade do not publicly fight apathy, that we are apathetic.

There are some members of the senior class that are under the impression that the junior grade exists in their own isolated bubble. I reached out to co-Leader of Black Student Union and Policy Board Chair, Regina L.

I asked her if she thought there was a common understanding that the junior grade does not fight apathy. She says,  “Yeah… seniors — at least the ones I hang out with — joke all the time about how juniors aren’t very active in the community. From my perspective, the junior grade seems to be really involved in their world as juniors, and not as involved with the OES community as a whole.”

To an extent, it’s true that our grade is faced with keeping affinity groups like BSU and Exploring Whiteness alive, and it’s true that there is a decent chance that juniors do not want to put in the effort to keep them alive. But the reason people say our grade is apathetic differs from the actual reason we’re not pursuing continuing these groups.

I do not want to generalize, but I think the reasoning behind not continuing the affinity groups and other activities has to do with the fact that people do not want to take the risk and it is not how they like to lead. Does this mean they are apathetic? Not necessarily. People shouldn’t have to alter their personalities to prove to others that they aren’t apathetic.

The way many people in our community decide to fight apathy is in a public setting. Whether it is through lunch meetings, mandatory Culture Shock, gathering announcements, and even posters spread throughout the OES campus, many people conform to the idea that the way to fight apathy is very direct.

This brings up a broader question: In what ways do other grades way of fighting apathy differ from the junior grade? Regina L. says, “I think one of the great things about the senior grade is that people are incredibly dedicated to what they are involved in. I really respect the lengths to which people in our grade have gone to pursue their interests.”

She went on to say, “There are so many types of leaders, in so many areas of the community, that come from my grade — I really respect the work that my peers do.” I asked junior Isabele R. the same question, and she had a more blunt response: “I think that’s the thing, your grade doesn’t fight apathy because you’re apathetic.”

But my class is filled with people who are more willing to express their opinions and ideas in a conversational manner. This was most prevalent when I participated in open space this year during Culture Shock.

This gave students an opportunity to split off into small groups and discuss issues that are most important in their lives. Personally, I was able to both participate and take in what my peers had to say. This is one of the moments where I truly knew my grade was not apathetic—they were just holding it in and waiting to express themselves in their own way.

To me, this in some ways is a better way to fight apathy. Arianna agrees, saying, “I don’t think it really matters how you fight apathy; whether that’s in a macro or micro level. If you point out to a friend an offensive slur or comment they make, that’s fighting apathy. It’s being just a decent person too.”

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