How a Radical and Realistic Approach to Our Political Problems Can Help Us Overcome Inaction
Sometimes it feels like there’s so much change to demand that it’s hard to keep track. Between discussions of Bon Appétit’s re-contracting, on-campus housing, residential life, carbon neutrality—you name it—circling around campus, this school feels volatile and in motion. And yet, there are plenty of signs of apathy: club meetings with devastatingly low attendance, little involvement by most students with student government, and speakers without audiences. There’s the sense that something’s about to happen, but it never really fully does.
I think part of the reason we can struggle to see tangible changes at CC is because we’re terrified of suggesting we can’t do it all. We can’t be carbon neutral and need-blind and source all our food locally and have a competitive hockey team and sustain the Block Plan and reopen the Preserve all simultaneously, instantaneously. We’re guilty. As a disproportionately white and wealthy student body, we are afraid to prioritize our demands because we are afraid it makes us insensitive; when we are asked what we want, we flounder. When I spoke with Shannon Amundson, Director of Financial Aid for CC, she emphasized one question which most students looking for administrative change were unable to answer: What are you willing to give up? From where are you willing to reallocate funding; which comforts would you forego in order to lower the costs of on-campus housing; which food options would you give up in pursuit of a more sustainable food service? If we can’t answer these questions, how do we expect anything to get done?
I’ve had several conversations regarding whether cutting financial aid for students who choose to live off-campus would be morally wrong. In principle, it certainly seems to be—except that if CC does choose to implement the policy, financial aid would be cut only by the amount that it is cheaper to live off-campus, and those funds would be reallocated elsewhere within the financial aid department. The alternative for that particular policy is not just students who live off-campus receiving more aid; it’s that and students elsewhere receiving less aid. This isn’t to suggest that increasing the financial aid budget isn’t possible, but it’s not as simple as saying so.
Amundson sees this as a symptom of political division in the U.S. more broadly, where a constant “us vs. them” mindset impedes this generation’s ability to collaborate, compromise, and negotiate. I would add that it’s also a rebellion against adults telling us to be realistic without telling us why, and against the Republican party creating a false dichotomy between economic and social good. I’m done being told to shut up about social policy because I don’t understand how the ‘real world’ works, and I’m done believing that living in a capitalist society means progress is purely profit-based. As unproductive as it is for today’s students and youth to criticize policies without practical replacements, it’s equally unproductive for those in positions of authority to dismiss our ability to find creative, quantitative solutions. As trust erodes between the establishment and the outsiders, I worry that it’s also eroding across generations in both directions. Everything that goes along with the label “millennial” points to a growing gap between what we’re capable of and what’s expected of us.
Obviously there are students at CC actively advocating specific, concrete, feasible changes—the Bon Appétit food audit is a great example. And there are many more students looking in detail into issues of their choosing; I’m not arguing that CC students don’t think critically, nor do I believe administrators are unwilling to give us information and constructive feedback. I do think that at CC—and especially over social media—it’s more tempting to be radical than to be practical. Transforming change from a demand to a reality requires both.