Students Keep Hope Alive

Monday, March 28, 2011

When I was in high school, I dreamed of going to UC-Berkeley. The stories of protests against social injustices conveyed by my AP History teacher got me excited. I was determined to attend a college where students fought against elitism and embraced diversity. The computerized college match programs I tried out told me that only CUNY would fit my bill (every other school was too white). And my mom told me that I was about 30 years too late for the Berkeley of my imagination.

I ended up (sadly) at William and Mary, then George Washington University, and finally at University of Pennsylvania--entirely out of financial constraints (VA was in-state, GW was tuition-free thanks to Mom's job, and Penn offered me a full ride for grad school). In all cases I was surrounded by smart but highly privileged kids who had little sense that many had been born on 3rd base.

My heart is therefore warmed by the sudden realization, brought on by recent events, that many of the undergraduates at UW-Madison and around Wisconsin are similarly committed to doing what's necessary to make this a fairer, more just world. Despite rampant rhetoric from Richard Vedder and others who claim that they are lazy, adrift, partying fools, in fact some (many?) of the college students I've been observing lately seem downright committed. It's fantastic.

Tonight we get this news from Minnesota: “Students and community supporters...are outraged over soaring tuition, budget cuts, skyrocketing administrative salaries, mounting student debt, attacks on cultural diversity groups on campus, and blatant disregard for workers’ rights across the nation. In light of recent student and worker uprisings around the world, students in the Twin Cities are no longer willing to bear the burdens of the economic crisis while the rich only get richer. Inspired by the actions of students at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, Madison, and other campuses around the state, U of M students are standing up against injustices in their own state and their own university.”

The students are occupying the Social Sciences Tower of the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, home to that university's sociology department.

What's next? Perhaps Bascom. Perhaps the Sewell Social Science Building -- named for William Sewell, the late sociologist who named his presidential address to the American Sociological Association "Inequality of Opportunity for Higher Education." I dare say, Bill might be proud of student efforts to prevent Wisconsin's flagship university from becoming a gated community. After all, back in 1971 he wrote of his great concerns about the future of equality of opportunity in higher education, as universities found themselves in severe financial trouble, moving to increase tuition without sufficient compensation in financial aid. "Equality of educational opportunity," Sewell wrote, "is an essential prerequisite for a well-functioning democratic society."

On Wisconsin!

Photo: Jeff Miller, UW-Madison Communications