The flyer was dusty and wrinkled when I found it in the archives, but I still got goose bumps. "SIT-IN!" it cried. "CONTROL THE UNIVERSITY DON'T LET IT CONTROL YOU!"
On Monday, March 27, 1972, Penn students barricaded themselves in President Martin Myerson's office. They demanded "an open forum with President Myerson. and Provost [Curtis] Reitz to discuss," among other things, open access to the school's budget and a rescission of a recent tuition hike. "We intend to stay in Myerson's office until we get a promise of this forum."
That was a bit of the student movement at Penn. Though not Berkeley by any stretch, students here were deeply involved -- they marched, they sat in, they cared about their school and their world and they weren't shy.
Does our generation care about anything? There's no draft now, and the draft was the catalyst for the student movement because it directly affected every college-aged male. The Vietnam War was that generation's defining issue.
But there are certainly problems in our time. Iraq, Katrina - hell, West Philly has enough to keep us all busy if we wanted. We're often criticized for being apathetic, for ignoring our society and being selfish or lazy or not idealistic enough.
They're right in one respect: We don't do the showy stuff as much as they did back then. But that doesn't mean we don't care.
Last fall alone, 800 undergraduate and graduate students participated in 24 Academically Based Community Service courses offered by Penn's Center for Community Partnerships. According to the CCP's founding director, Ira Harkavy, Penn students pushed for and helped create many of these courses.
For example, "last year there was a post-Katrina meeting [in which students] looked at the Lower Ninth Ward [and saw] that it had statistics not unlike West Philadelphia," Harkavy said. They "then organized a meeting in which about 100 community people and 80 students came to talk about what might Penn do to overcome poverty and racism in West Philadelphia."
There's a myriad of community-service and social-action organizations at Penn. "There are about 50 groups working with Civic House," said its director, David Grossman. Penn students have a "perhaps less public, less large scale involvement," than the '60s generation, "but [they try] to get at the systemic issues involved. They address specific issues individually and in smaller groups."
According to Grossman, there are between 2,500 and 3,000 Penn students who volunteer at least once a week.
And when the situation calls for it, we do get out the dusty relics, the markers and scrapwood and poster paper.
In December 2004, 80 students dressed in black quietly paraded into College Hall and demanded to see President Amy Gutmann. They were angry over the wrongful and heavy-handed arrest of a black student as a result of what they believed was racial profiling. According to the DP, "All parties seemed to emerge from the talk satisfied, with organizers calling it a success and administrators describing the protest as well-organized and impressive."
The '60s. Oh, to live in that exciting time - to shout "you fascist pig!" at racist cops, to challenge the Man on his every injustice, to march and sit in and burn draft cards. It was epochal, and we missed it. But although there's certainly a visceral longing for such rebellion, it's not always the most effective means for change.
"There is a terrible satisfaction in making people uncomfortable, totally independent of whether you're having a positive effect," explained Penn History professor Alan Charles Kors. But "your generation responds to things much more interested not in the nature of the spectacle but in the real results, [and] you have nothing to be ashamed about as compared with activists of the '60s and '70s."
With our fine record of community service and civic involvement, we have a lot to be proud of. But in the coming months, as the Iraq War continues its downward spiral and as our civil liberties continue to be slowly and deliberately eroded, we should get out on the street, too. We should join the rallies, we should raise signs and chant and get involved in what may be the defining events of our generation.
It's not 1972. Those days are gone. But the spirit of that time can be rediscovered. We're not mute; we're not powerless. If we can tutor and build and do the good work that we're doing here in Philadelphia then, even without the beads and the bell bottoms, we can make a national difference.
Alex Weinstein is a College senior from Bridgeport, W.Va. His e-mail address is email@example.com. Straight to Hell appears on Thursdays.Comments powered by Disqus
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