The stereotype of the Marxist college campus in the United States is not a new one. It dates back to the Vietnam War, when, up until 1965, college enrollment meant exemption from the draft.
Anti-war demonstrations at Columbia, UC Berkeley, and Kent State were pivotal protests in overturning popular support for the Vietnam war, but in their time were caricatured as radical, revisionist, and anti-American.
Not since those days has the United States been so divided in its views of its own institutions of higher education.
A Pew Research Center poll from 2019 found that about half of Americans see college as having a positive effect on the country, but some 38% see college as having a negative effect: a 26% increase from 2012. Meanwhile, a college degree has never been more important to compete in the global workforce, yet the cost of tuition has risen more than 25% in the past 10 years.
The effects of recession have proven catastrophic for essential workers amid wave after wave of COVID-19. Still, access to education and social mobility have all but plateaued for the working class, and there is little consensus among Americans as to whether forgoing higher education is a positive or negative.
Scenes from the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, best demonstrate the deprivation and neglect at the heart of our system. The quarantine election was a fraud, according to former President Trump, and the Fox News propaganda machine continues to churn out reactionary media for the masses. More alarming is that non-college educated voters of color are growing weary of the Democratic party, as made apparent by the last presidential election.
“So how does Joe Biden win if he barely improves on Clinton’s performance among non-college-educated white voters and does worse than she did among Black, Latino, and Asian voters?” Andrew Prokop wrote for Vox. “It’s because of those gains among white voters with a college degree.”
The turnout of voters of color from 2016 compared to 2020 poses an important discussion regarding the political climate and vulnerable people in our economy. Distrust of the establishment is growing on both sides, all while one in seven Americans live in poverty.
So, what does this all say about those paranoid of “radical” college campuses in this day and age?
These instances remind us of the importance of critical race theory, which has recently come under fire in the right-wing spin cycle. It is necessary for us to be having conversations about intersectionality, standpoint epistemology, and their limits, as well as all forms of essentialism, reductionism, and naturalization.
Our society is rife with racial injustice and economic inequality. We have yet to reckon with the full scope of this reality and the action that must be taken, regardless of denial or disbelief. This conclusion is evidenced in daily life, not in the “indoctrination” of tenured professors.
Despite this downpour of disinformation about the status quo, UW students are coming together through local institutions to win material support for the underrepresented. Subvert UD, formerly known as UW Black Lives Matter, hosts a mutual aid network that provides balanced meals to the houseless, jobless, or food-insecure.
United Students Against Sweatshops is waging a campaign against the university’s decision to contract prison labor, fueling the prison-industrial complex. The Institutional Climate Action UW chapter lobbies for the university’s divestment from fossil fuels and a commitment to net-zero carbon emissions by 2040.
The Black Student Union maintains its seven demands from the university: namely, divestment from the Seattle Police Department, hiring of more Black faculty, and expansion of mental health resources to students.
It says a lot about members of our society when these actionable ideas and pursuits, taken on by students trying to enact systemic change, are perceived as too radical.
“As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy,” Abraham Lincoln said in 1858. “Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is not democracy.”
If our university had the courage of its convictions, and upheld the radical principle of democracy, it would not exploit the 13th Amendment for slave labor.
Our school, like other premier national institutions, is sleepwalking into a future of marginalization, alienation, and disillusionment among its students. It is the students who are beckoning change, taking action to abolish second-class citizenship.
Reach contributing writer Thomas DuBeau at email@example.com. Twitter: @thomas_dubeau
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