The headline of a newspaper reads “Iraq war fuelling UK terrorism,” below the story, a rapper’s photograph is shown with a headline: “Snoop Dogg suspected of weapon, drug possession.” On an internet site the news headlines read: “North Korea being monitored after nuclear test,” and “Whitney files for divorce” Many people use various sources to get up to date with the current events of the world, however what they deem important a personal choice. To some college students, out of the four news stories above, those about Iraq and North Korea would be the most important, but for others the situations may not directly affect them.
Through a host of surveys, interviews and research, the importance of current political and social events in our world does not prove to be as important to most college students. Surveys were conducted at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass, in 2004 on voting, civic engagement and political interest showed that 72 percent of college students were unsure if they will vote, but said it was likely that they will vote 87 percent of these students say that politics affect their lives presently in some way shape or form. The studies also showed that nine percent of college youth are hyper engaged, and 53 percent say they are disengaged in civic activities.
The survey also showed that numbers for college graduates are not far from those of current students. 49 percent are disengaged while 11 percent are hyper engaged in activities. 12 percent of college students are not engaged in any civic activities which include: voting, solving community problems, volunteering, and raising money for charity, which the studies deemed unacceptable.
The reason for a lack of civic engagement and involvement varies Dr. Gary Clark, chair of the political science department at Dillard University said. “College students are interested when issues directly affect them, when that happens you’ll have an involved populous” says, Dr. Clark. “It’s the role of political activists to demonstrate how issues affect individuals. Activist must go to colleges and show how the issues have an effect on the students. Credible representatives are the key to reach them successfully.”
Dr. William P. Quigley professor of law at Loyola University said, “The only way students will become involved and interested in political issues is when we have a new world based on people instead of property.”
On the campus of Dillard University the concerns about nuclear weapons in North Korea or the war in Iraq is not a huge one because it does not seem to affect students’ everyday according to some. Karyn Stovall, a junior sociology major, says that the concern is typically very low for political issues for many reasons. The Joliet, Ill. Native said, “The lack of concern may come from Dillard not being a huge social science school. Dillard is known for nursing and humanities therefore students with political concerns are few. We are also at a very young age; when we are at home our focus is on fashion and things of that nature, we don’t want to focus on things we don’t have to.”
The main political issues that exist in America right now are the war in Iraq and nuclear weapons testing in North Korea. In North Korea on October 9 of this year there was an underground nuclear explosive test conducted. Some students say that the current situation with nuclear weapons in North Korea is so far away that it’s hard to think about and so sad they shouldn’t have to as with the war in Iraq. In 2003 America declared War in Iraq.
A question that often arises is, “Why don’t college youth care about these issues?” Rashaad Simms, a sophomore mass communications major said the concern is high for trivial issues and not political ones for a specific reason., “The reason for the lack of concern is that our generation has a complete deficiency of focus on important issues because its put in the category that it’s not going to affect us, or it’s not my problem. College youth don’t care enough.” The District of Columbia resident said.
Clark said that college youth should care about these serious issues, “Any international conflict directly affects college age individuals. If they are college age, then they are military age.”
Quigley’s opinion was the same in the matter of there being a higher concern, however he places the responsibility on everyone. “It’s not just students; it’s the responsibility of all citizens and all people of good will. This goes back to whom we identify as our neighbor and our family. We care about our small circle of people and usually are willing to really help them. But other members of our world family, we are not so inclined. We need to expand our definition of family,” Quigley said.
In previous generations, there seemed to be a greater concern for political issues especially in college age youth. Clark said, “The social concerns were deeper in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. They were so direct, not to say the issues now are not important but there were clear lines of demarcation. There were Jim Crow laws, separate but equal laws among other intense issues. Now the lines have become blurred and more sophisticated. Racism and classism is not as blunt as before, now it’s institutional.”
Simms also said he recognized the greater concern from the youth of the 60s. “What were those kids doing? They were being drafted so of course they cared about war. They protested and marched so they could be heard, college students were the voices of America, what happened to that? We don’t have the same drive as them because our focuses are much different. We’re focused on the new clothes and shoes coming out, money, fashion and entertainment. We focus on self, by doing that you miss the bigger picture. Realizing what’s important is a process of maturity, when we realize we can not run from the real world, once we accept it’s coming we will become a lot more socially conscious about issues,” Simms said.
In recent entertainment, fashion and all news, Bobby and Whitney’s filing for divorce has been splashed across all the headlines, articles about Madonna adopting a child from Africa and an article about energy drinks and others about spinach. Others say it’s easier to think about trivial news. Stovall said, “Bobby and Whitney’s getting a divorce is much more on the radar for a college student, especially a black student. The culture we’re brought up in is one that’s more concerned with entertainment versus politics” Not only do college student’s lack a concern, but everyone else does as well. War is a constant, we’ve gotten so used to this constant threat it doesn’t faze us.”
The concern for fashion, entertainment, money and sports seems to be a hot topic among college youth. Quigley said he thinks college students are drawn to this world based upon the bombarding of advertisements.
“They are drawn to this for the same reason their parents are, we are constantly being bombarded, some say as often as 8,000 times a day., with advertising that sends us false messages-that love and hope and respect can be purchased. We all want love, hope and respect. We are just not sure how to get them, so we buy something that promises us we will feel better,” Quigley said.
Clark said he thinks it’s about sociology. “I think it’s natural that we are less drawn to those issues. There is a natural apathy, we are more about the trivial issues, and we like to escape tough issues, its part of Americanism. We have a representative democracy, we send individuals to represent us. As a result we get detached from Washington or major political centers.”
Entertainers, athletes, models, television and movie stars are all people that live in the spotlight. These people are constantly in the news for both the smallest and the biggest things, whether it’s a new car, baby or hairstyle they are in it. College students are drawn to this faÃ§ade of these individuals and their lives as if it some how makes a difference, to some, it does. Saul Faal, a junior political science major from Pomona, Calif. said college students are drawn to them specifically because it’s an everyday norm to see them and try to emulate them.
“That’s who we see on television. It’s sad to say but a majority of black successful people we see are entertainers and athletes, we see these people who have immense influences on us. We’re trying to imitate our role models. It might not be right but it’s a reality,” Faal said.
Amber Boyd, also a political science major, said that college students tend to focus on issues closer to them. The sophomore from Indianapolis, Ind. said, “We disregard political issues because in essence we’re taught to. The elites are in control, the government wants to keep control constantly so other people don’t know about anything and there will be a lack of concern. The media plays a big role in what the masses know as well. It’s more likely for us to know about superstars who get divorced than what’s going on in Iraq or North Korea.”
So now here we are again back at the question, “Why do college students lack a general concern for political and social issues?” Numerous students said there should be an increasing concern because the issues specifically in North Korea and Iraq do affect them. Boyd said, “The fact that they have nuclear weapons increases the possibility there could be another nuclear weapons war, seeing that people don’t know how to resolve conflicts with out fighting, we should care.” Faal said, “It affects my lively hood, especially if they try to attack us. With imperialism we try to metal into other countries affairs instead of worrying about our own.”
Simms said, “In due time certain things will take place in the world and North Korea should be a factor and we won’t fully understand unless we see these foreshadowing events. Instead of getting all riled up and rioting we will have already saw it coming if something happens.” Stovall said issues always affect us because we should always know them, we can’t ever have too much information.
Martin Luther King Junior once said, “I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism are incapable of being conquered.” Maybe our society, specifically our college youth who were once deemed the voices of America by Simms; will one day form its concerns around those issues of political interests instead of preoccupying their minds with the latest fashion, entertainment or athlete buzz.