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Not so activist here at UNC

There’s no doubt that UNC has a history of activism. Last year, we celebrated 150 years of the Campus Y, and in October, a commemorative plaque was laid for the fight against the 1963 Speaker Ban Law.

So I’ve been surprised by the muted campus response to the Occupy movement. And I’ve been even more surprised by how few people have reacted to the plans to substantially raise tuition.

It’s not that big protests would have necessarily been the best course of action, but rather, it’s happening at other universities: Why not at UNC, if we are so committed to social justice?

Two weeks ago, thousands of students rallied before the University of California system Board of Regents meeting, demonstrating about higher education funding.

In Wisconsin, students were a strong part of protests against Gov. Scott Walker’s plans to limit collective bargaining.

Look at the Occupy movement in New York. Students were a major part of the protest in Zuccotti Park, and there has been a “student occupation” at the New School since the park was cleared.

There have been Occupy encampments on campuses across the country — including in Harvard Yard.

But at UNC, a “Strike the Hikes” march last month drew only a few dozen activists. Even a concerted push by Campus Y leadership for a student presence at the Board of Trustees’ Nov. 17 meeting raised a crowd of less than one hundred.

Occupy UNC was somewhat of a damp squib, and I’ve not seen more than a handful of students at Occupy Chapel Hill.

Perhaps I’m making too much of the differences, overplaying student engagement elsewhere, or underplaying some of what’s gone on here. After all, the same experience is probably true on most campuses.

But if UNC is as committed to social justice as service hours and other indicators would suggest, then why are students less vocal here than elsewhere?

Are we simply more moderate? More moderate than California or New York I can understand, but are we more moderate than even South Carolina students?

(USC’s Roosevelt Institute chapter enthusiastically invited students visiting for a policy conference to stay the night at Occupy Columbia; the UNC contingent declined.)

Is the issue simply not salient? Do fewer UNC students care about the Occupy movement (or tuition) than elsewhere?

Or do we think protest is passé?

I’ve heard a few comments to that effect from more activist friends — that UNC breeds a type of “organization kid.” After all, who needs to protest, when there are sustainable social ventures to be incubated, and when the chancellor politely answers questions at forums?

Or perhaps the lack of organized activism is because students don’t know how.

That’s how some member of the Campus Y executive board see the problem: They’re working to relearn the mechanics of organizing, and maybe it will work.

But whatever the reason, this campus today seems far away from its activist history.

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