Earlham is in the midst of a severe crisis in student apathy, and we know it. Throughout my relatively short time here, I have heard countless murmurs and rants about the lack of engagement in activist and administrative politics. This crisis extends far beyond the troubles of Earlham Student Government, (ESG), which I believe, could easily be seen as a symptom of the larger issue – growing apathy. Needless to say, this development is rather disturbing. It contradicts the stereotypical expectation of Earlhamites as passionate, opinionated liberals. However, many individuals on Earlham’s campus do seem to fit that description, which leads me to wonder about why we are in the midst of such an epidemic.
On Wednesday, February 13th, I spent approximately one hour talking to students at Saga about the decision to hire Dr. Anne Houtman as the college’s next President. I spoke to more than 40 students, always starting with the question, “Were you keeping up with the presidential search by attending forums, and so forth?” No student, not a single one, answered that question with a confident yes. Most admitted, albeit shamefully, that they did not know about all of the events. Why is it that such a large percentage of the student body seemed indifferent to an issue as important as selecting Earlham’s next president?
Changing my tactics, I began to ask the students why they had not stayed updated on the search process and began to receive many clear and impassioned responses. Many felt that the process had seemed rushed or that the forums clashed with class and practice schedules. Others shared their frustration with feeling as if they had no real voices on the search results or feeling like the Board of Trustees did not particularly cared about their opinions. It appears that many students did not follow the presidential search, not because they deemed it as unimportant, but because there remains a deep dissatisfaction with the structures of the entire process.
Disillusioned with student government, students across campus seem sick of the narrow, overly-bureaucratic channels offered by the administration. More and more students feel that despite directing their efforts and energies toward these existing channels of communication, they are still not being heard. With this in mind, it seems predictable that no more than three students showed up to each of the Campus Life Advisory Committee, (CLAC), listening sessions on the Code of Conduct, when CLAC was clearly not taking their feedback into consideration.
Undoubtedly, a large percentage of the student population seem to have concluded that it is not worth enduring the mind-numbing bureaucracy to only be ignored. From the less than satisfactory mental health services, the smoking ban, the U’s locked balconies and the single student representative on the Presidential Search Committee, the college repeatedly ignores the seemingly simple demands of the majority of Earlham students.
While at times this growing culture of apathy seems bleak and depressing, we may be experiencing the beginning of a reversal. There was a spark in reimaging senate which has formulated a series of new ideas on how to better represent students. Similarly, this year has seen an uptick in activist organizations, and we may be about to witness a more empowered student-body, not through bureaucratic channels which refuse to listen to our opinions, but through student organizations fighting for a say on what happens at Earlham.