Thursday, June 4, 2020
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Embarrassed to Ask, Dying to Know

Approximately two weeks ago in Abuja, Nigeria, 243 teenage girls were abducted from their secondary school by what certain sources claim to have been a violent Nigerian extremist group known as Boko Haram. Yesterday, hundreds of protesters — mostly women — armed themselves with banners and red clothing and marched in Nigeria’s capital city in solidarity against this crime and in protest against the military’s lack of prompt response to save the abductees.

According to The New Yorker, “the circumstances of the kidnapping, and the military’s deception, especially, have exposed a deeply troubling aspect of Nigeria’s leadership.” In a country known for its extreme corruption, political disorder and stark cultural divisions, a protest of this magnitude is truly extraordinary.

Activism. It spurs conflict in hopes of a resolution. It sensationalizes issues for the sake of cultivating solidarity on all fronts. It doesn’t have to come in the form of hundred-member marches or exclusive political press conferences, but it has to start somewhere. Nearly every time, it must start with a desire to know more about our world in the presence of injustice.

Around 7:30 p.m. last night by UTC, a car full of college-aged men drove by me, and through their open window I managed to hear one of them yell, “Oh my god, she’s insanely hot. Turn the car around. Go go go!”

Even in one of the safest big cities in America, I felt scared that night in the presence of individuals who believed I was simply there for their consumption. Along these same lines, a Brooklyn oil painter named Tatyana Fazlalizadeh was interviewed by and showcased on for her multi-city poster campaign depicting inspiring images that hope to discourage street harassment — particularly against women of color. Fazlalizadeh explains, “I feel like the common thing is men feeling entitled to treat you how they want to treat you. You never feel as though you have a right to the space.”

Street harassment is a pervading externality of rape culture and occurs all around the world — even in spaces where the privilege of deconstruction panels, workshops and classes on this topic are freely accessible to the public.

A fantastic article on rape culture by Karam Johal published in April 2013 by the New University touches on the lack of student awareness on various types of violence that is encouraged on a famed Facebook page, “UCI Secrets.”

This is just one example of the importance of student awareness and involvement for the sake of promoting a safe and equal environment for all.

Despite the age-old issue of rape culture in our country, a highly intellectual campus like UC Irvine still falls victim to this version of harassment. However, I’m not here to talk about rape culture when so many insightful writers before me have carefully deconstructed it for their readers. I’m here to talk about the bigger picture: activism and involvement for the sake of awareness.

An article from “Inside Higher Ed” by Philip G. Altbach and Manja Klemencic touches on the importance of student activism throughout history. Altbach and Klemencic emphasize the large role that students played in ousting Ukrainian autocrat Victor Yanukovych, in improving the public school system across Chile, in mobilizing the Tulip Revolution in Kyrgystan, in creating free education in Germany, and in banishing tuition increases in Canada.

These two writers say that “although the era of student revolutions may have ended a half-century ago, students continue to be active in politics, and they are often a key force in political movements directed toward social change around the world.”

So what about UC Irvine’s student activism and general campus involvement? Has it made an impact? The answer is deeply rooted in a grey area. Shannon Cooper, a second-year political science student, has seen the power of student engagement in global conversations through her past involvements with the Olive Tree Initiative.

Cooper says that students at UC Irvine are “stuck in a bubble and are generally disconnected with what’s happening outside.” This is most likely due to students’ general feelings of intimidation toward protests or rallies, or perhaps the overall lack of encouragement and education on the importance of fighting for positive change through outside engagement.

For Cooper, the most important thing that student leaders must adopt is “the willingness to accept failure” and the “wanting for a holistic view” of a college experience. She takes note of the recent Ring Road display hosted by the Muslim Student Union all week regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict and UCI’s divestment from companies directly profiting from Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

“Actively going out and seeing information [like that] has made me more knowledgeable.”

Moreover, Cooper supports the information booths, displays and demonstrations on campus, explaining that it has helped her gain more awareness than simply reading the same information online.

Third-year Angela Simmons shares a different yet equally valid perspective on student activism’s place at UCI: “I do believe that student activism is prevalent on campus, however, I’m not sure if I could say that a varied student voice is prevalent on campus … This may be because of a variety of reasons whether it be students feeling like their voice wouldn’t be heard even if they spoke up or on the flip side, student apathy. I’ve met students that aren’t really concerned with being active on campus or being an activist for a cause. I think that’s definitely a problem on campus. However, I don’t want to discount the work that many of our student activists have done on campus. I’ve seen some of the most passionate and dedicated people who advocated for things that I didn’t even realize were issues until it was brought to my attention.”

While Cooper and Simmons support the distribution of progressive student dialogues to a wider audience, it is not an opinion that is shared by all.

The next time you’re on campus, accept a flyer from a fellow student! Ask questions. Engage yourself with a community you haven’t run into yet. Stop and read about a student display. Their hours of work and tireless research should not go to waste. They are not soliciting. They are simply activating.

Let’s not skirt the edges of our own power throughout history. We need to stop seeing ourselves as just students.

Rather, we are budding leaders, equipped with the potential and intellectual faculties to extend the ambitions of previous leaders. We have to cultivate activism and a fiery passion that is of the same attitude as the hundreds of women who marched for the release of 243 kidnapped girls in Abuja, Nigeria.

We are endowed with the same sense of empathy, strong will and determination. Let’s use this and press on in the hopes to create a better world for all.