You have opinions on thngs. ?As a human being you are wired not only to observe people, events, and circumstances, but also to process and compartmentalize these objects of observation into little “good, bad, ugly, beautiful, funny, irritating, strange, stupid, or logical” boxes in your brain. ?These compartments are accompanied by an intricately woven tapestry of conscious and unconscious influences that ultimately lead you to categorize them as you did. ?The particular way you appraise the world around you defines not only you as an individual, but also you as a member of the society in which you live. This in turn tells us all something about that society and how we relate to it as a whole. ?
The Daily Sundial Opinion section presents you, the reader, with a unique place in which to unfurl your tapestry of opinion and reasoning. ?We want you to reach down into the deepest depths of your being, into the murkiness of your subconscious and the clarity of your conscious awareness. Then tell us why, in great detail, you think South Park is the greatest form of social commentary to grace humanity, or what you think of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s performance in Kindergarten Cop and how it thoroughly prepared him to run an enormously complex state with one of the world’s largest economies.
This column is an important place on this campus where you can make yourself heard. ?The Sundial is read by thousands of students, professors, staff, and administrators alike. ?As far as I know, President Jolene Koester gives it a read on occasion. ?Here then, you can share with her, with me, and with everyone what it is that you care about, what you find important, and what you’d like to see change. ?
What bothers you about this school, this campus, Los Angeles, the United States, global politics? ?There is a good chance that your views are shared by others. ?Whether you are writing an editorial of your own or responding to someone else’s, you are participating in an open dialogue, a form of civilized, measured debate that is imperative to human society, and especially to an institution of higher learning. ??You are participating in an activity that is as old as the human intellect itself.
No topic is off limits, however, keep in mind that I will use discretion. ?I will probably choose not to run your piece if you decide to write about your fixation with sock puppet porn or why you think condiments are easier to talk to than people. ?Otherwise, this is an open forum. ?
There is an abundance of issues surrounding us and most are worthy of discussion. ?For instance, we are approaching Black History Month in February. Consider this and racially-charged events emanating from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It would be difficult not to have strong opinions in these turbulent times, which in many ways recalls another recent period of upheaval and turbulence.
Black History Month will start a couple of days from now, and having recently passed Martin Luther King Day, we are reminded of a time that now seems worlds apart. ?With the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement and the war in Vietnam raging at the forefront of public consciousness, the nation and the world were in a volatile brew wherein drastic changes in societal paradigms seemed to be on the brink of realization. ?There seemed to be a general awareness that something, be it a cause or simply the condition of humanity, was larger than the self, overriding the needs and wants of the individual. ?
Causes united people; whatever they may have been, and they went beyond the comparatively irrelevant disagreements, alliances, and duties that governed daily life.
What has changed? ?This is, by any definition, a time of dire crisis, much like the time of Dr. King. ?We are again deeply embedded in a bloody war where no resolution, end, or even clear goal is in sight. ?Where are the enormous and cataclysmic campus protests? ?
The Civil Rights Movement may have been won nominally, but anyone who has been through some of Los Angeles’ urban areas can see that neighborhoods are racially segregated, which translates into economic segregation. ?Members of racial “minorities” have notably less access to education, health care, upwardly mobile, stable employment, and property ownership. ?This is hardly the world Dr. King envisioned, but there is no discernable civil rights movement to speak of today. ?
Needless to say, the nature and attitude towards higher education has changed, and this means our awareness and interpretation of the world in which we live has also subsequently changed. ?Public apathy seems to plague us, allowing us to stew in an unstable and inequitable status quo. ?What has changed from then to now can perhaps be partly attributed to the shift away from viewing higher education as society’s investment in itself as a whole towards viewing it as a personal investment in one’s own future economic prospects.
Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy quoted the ancient Greek poet Aeschylus from memory in his unplanned speech announcing the death of Dr. King in 1968. ?Can anyone seriously imagine this happening today? ?The focus on great literature, the arts, and cultural awareness are vitally important to humanity, for these disciplines remind us that we are only small parts, singular agents in a vastly larger human mosaic. ?They remind us that despite our origins, we are united, linked by a common chain created by the spectrum of emotions, thoughts, ideas, and experiences that are uniquely and simply human. ?
But valuing and cultivating these traditions and disciplines does not seem to be a priority for many institutions of higher learning these days. Instead they seem to have been downplayed in favor of cutting back departments in an effort to curtail costs and cycle students through over-wrought public universities quickly and cheaply. ?Students, facing ever-increasing tuitions, are often forced to work throughout their education. ?
Learning in earnest and for the sake of cultivating knowledge and understanding has thus been relegated to the back burner, and emphasis is instead placed on completing necessary units and earning a degree that has been paid for dearly. ?
Colleges and universities have ceased to be centers in which high-mindedness is nurtured, culture is explored and celebrated, and intellect grown and expanded. ?Some may argue they have deteriorated into degree mills, whipping financially-strapped students through with barely a cursory understanding of the intellectual foundation upon which they stand as members of a university.
The point of the opinion column at a college newspaper, as I see it, is to push back at this deterioration. ?Debating ideas is fundamental to developing as mature, educated, thoughtful individuals, and the ability to create a civilized dialogue through speaking one’s mind, listening to others, and respecting and perhaps incorporating others’ opinions is what shapes the competent critical thinker. ?Gaining this ability, the ability to think critically but with an open, aware mind, is what a college education is all about, anyway.
Bethania Palma can be reached at email@example.com