Lack of student activism concerns campus leaders

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As the Nov. 8 California special election approaches, the amount of political activism among students on campus could be a sign of an apathetic or at least currently uninformed student body, according to some CSUN campus leaders.

Glenn Omatsu, lecturer of the Bridge Program as well Asian American Studies professor and coordinator for the Educational Opportunity and Faculty Mentor programs, has been an activist for years. CSUN, like any college campus, goes through cycles of consciousness, and there is still some activism despite its low visibility, he said.

“Young activism on campus goes up and down because up to now, students do not know how to get back up from the shock (of certain issues),” Omatsu said. “Immediate reactions to issues are just anger and resignation.”

Many students do not understand the impact their voice has on society, Omatsu said. He said students learn the traditional way of changing society, which is to vote, but they forget that change also requires other methods.

“They have to understand that it takes small actions, supported by people and organizations, to cause the change.”

According to Bryson White, director of political awareness for Associated Students, political activism on campus is not widespread.

He said that during the organization’s efforts to promote voter registration on campus, organizers were laughed at and heard various excuses from students.

“We were out there giving people information about voter registration and giving out brochures of voter’s guide,” White said. “Eight out of 10 people – they just don’t care. I do think the (students on) campus (are) apathetic.”

White said that political organizations on campus are not currently active. He said there are students who might belong to an organization that are not active with issues, but these individuals act independently to bring awareness to the issues.

He added that most students are not as concerned about the smaller issues, such as the state propositions that make up a sizeable part of the Nov. 8 ballot, but he still hopes to revive student involvement with issues surrounding the school.

“We want to encourage students to join something that interests them, whether it’s a political organization or something,” White said. “Each opinion is a value, so if you are not involved it sets (things) back and the university misses out on your contribution.”

Like White, Taranika Echols, chief of staff for A.S., said an added factor to lack of involvement from students could also be triggered by the student government, which might not be as politically inclined compared with previous years.

“Main factor could be the president and vice president have to be politically charged,” Echols said. “They are catalyst to students, newspapers and administration. (Oriel Maria Siu, A.S. vice president 2003-04) was passionate about political issues and personally, that was who she was.”

According to Echols, students have been stuck with the idea that CSUN is a commuter school. She said students use this as an excuse to not get involved on campus.

Both White and Echols said that the numerous open senate seats in A.S. prove students are not taking part in university issues. They added that students are consistently affected by tuition increases but do not seem to ever react.

“Students pay for A.S. fees and we want them to get something out of it,” Echols said. “We can only give so much. They need to meet us at least halfway.”

Michael Colorge, president of the Young Democrats of Northridge, is also involved with various organizations on campus. He said he personally feels that activism is alive at CSUN, but that to what extent depends on the issue.

“Students are more inclined toward what applies to them, and that is not every issue,” Colorge said.

Matthew Gerred, CSUN College Republicans chair and founder, said political activism on campus has been “conservatively silent and even on the liberal side.”

He said that like him, some students are burdened with many outside factors, such as jobs and family, which limit their ability to review and take part in pressing issues.

“I don’t know how it stems, but 80 percent of people are wasting their college years not joining clubs, student government or just hanging out even at the Pub (in the University Student Union),” Gerred said. “I think a ton of students are wasting their college experience.”

Despite immobility from other organizations and students, CSUN Movimiento Estudiantil Chicana/o de Aztlan has been consistent in demonstrating social, political and cultural awareness both in and out of campus over the years.

M.E.Ch.A was recently part of the “No More Police Brutality” march and rally in Downtown Los Angeles, along with members of the Black Student Union, among hundreds of others.

Carlos Moran, chair of M.E.Ch.A., said his organization’s main foundation has always been about student activism. He said the group has adopted Salvador Allende’s rationale, which says that “to be a student and not revolutionary is a contradiction.”

He added revolution does not literally mean pick up weapons and fight, but instead the phrase is intended to raise awareness to fellow students.

“People (students) lack motivation and unity among other (student) organizations,” Moran said. In regards to campus activism in previous years, the efforts broke down and did not reach their full potential, he said. Moran said many students in campus are complacent and do not act on issues.

He said he believes other students are aware and see the issues, but are at ease with their situations.

Joanne Angeles can be reached at city@sundial.csun.edu.