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College campuses are dead these days, they tell us. Cut-throat careerism, apathy, and a return to the '50s tend to be the catchwords of the campus sociologist who flock to the pages of national media.
But the first weeks of this semester don't exactly lend support to the new-mood-on-campus theories. True, most students here are not raising questions about such overarching issues as investments in South Africa, but there does seem to be a glimmering of activism.
Most visible, of course, is undergraduate reaction to the limited breakfast plan. Last week, after grumbling about long lines in the four Houses that serve hot breakfasts, students organized an "Eat-In." They hoped to crowd the dining halls to the point where the College administration would have to take notice.
The "Eat-In" didn't provoke a huge response--about 60 extra breakfasters in each dining hall--but the breakfast issue isn't the only one in sight.
Last week, students voiced protests to the temporary closing of the Indoor Athletic Building on weekends, and to the possible reduction of study space in Gutman Library.
Even more indicative of what may be a rise in activism are two new efforts to organize student advocacy groups.
The Currier House Committee is trying to form an undergraduate government, and will hold a constitutional convention at some as-yet-unspecified date. That government, Currier House spokesmen said, would wield more power than the Committee on Houses and Undergraduate Life, which merely advises the administration.
In addition, the people behind the "Eat-In" are trying to gain official recognition as the "Student Lobby," which would solicit student opinion on various issues affecting their lives.
That may be the hallmark of the recent wave of protest: without exception, it centers on issues that affect the quality of student life.
Dean Fox, who received the brunt of student protests against the breakfast plan and changes in housing patterns, said yesterday he is not surprised at students' reaction to recent administration decisions.
While he is not sure how broad-based concern about these issues really is. Fox said he does believe "students are becoming more interested in how the University treats them, how their money is spent," which would not be surprising, since during the course of four years here, undergraduates now pay about $25,000.
Sociologist David Reisman, Jr. '31, Ford II Professor of Social Sciences, said yesterday he has never been convinced students here are apathetic. In fact, he said, he believes students have continued to hold anti-authoritarian and anti-establishment views through the '70s; it is only the lack of clear issues and a conciliatory administration that keeps them off the streets.
I here is a new element emerging in the current protests, however, Reisman said. Now, students protest about "entitlements"--things to which they believe they are entitled--in addition to things like women's studies and investment policies.
This latter feeling, Reisman said, "is part of a more general American adversarial, litigious spirit," a feeling that "they are doing this to me and I'm going to push back."
But campus sociologists should probably beware of generalizing from recent events here. As Fox pointed out, it doesn't take more than a change in the attitudes of four or five per cent of the student body for people writing trend articles to perceive a shift.
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