Why do I have to keep listening to complaints that my generation is apathetic? On Tuesday of this week the Harvard Crimson published an article titled “Alums Protest Student Apathy.” The article details how 13 members of the Class of 1967 sent an open letter to Harvard President Drew Faust bemoaning the “widespread apathy and political indifference” of today’s Harvard students. I will avoid the tempting opportunity to bash Harvard students and instead focus on what this letter represents. This letter is seriously disturbing for its depiction of the disconnect between our own generation and that of our parents.
The generational differences are obvious. The Vietnam War sparked a mass student outcry the likes of which this country had never seen. Its singularity and severity inspired such emotion that it defined an entire generation of political activism. We don’t have our own Vietnam. We have worse. Every time we pick up a newspaper or turn on the TV we are reminded how screwed up the world is. We are expected to deal with too much. As the world becomes smaller, or flatter, depending on your preferred metaphor, the world’s problems are disseminated everywhere. The problems we are expected to tackle are more global and more vicious, and they are exponentially greater in number.
This isn’t to say we are scared or timid. To the contrary, we attack with vigor. The breadth of youth activism today is inspiring. We spend time and energy working on a truly exceptional range of problems. We work on the local and community level, and we work on the international and global level. We are not apathetic or indifferent. We simply use different tactics than our parents did. Activism hasn’t died; it has just evolved. We have studied and learned from the activism of our parents, and we have transformed it. We have taken our technological abilities and our willingness to work within existing power structures and created a new brand of youth activism.
The letter ends by criticizing the “apparently docile political behavior” of students. We are not docile! We are just different from the older generation. Why is that so difficult to understand?
The alumni letter calls for the creation of a task force to “investigate the causes and propose possible cures for political apathy.” Perhaps a taskforce would be good idea. Not for the belittling and frankly offensive stated purpose but to begin a more honest dialogue. We didn’t create our world; we inherited it from our parents and their predecessors. We didn’t create the world’s problems, we just work to improve them. If someone has a problem with the way we go about it, I invite them to spend a day in our shoes.
Jacob Koch is a sophomore in Timothy Dwight College.