There is a worrying trend of apathy among UCD students these days. This isn’t exactly news to anyone, at least not to anyone who has recently gone through this university. Quite regularly, it seems that only a very small minority of the more than 20,000 students actually care about what goes on in UCD.
That is not to say that people don’t care about things. There are some fantastic people doing fantastic things in UCD who put every ounce of themselves into something they care about. Last weekend’s Thinking Big event is a perfect example of students actually giving a crap about something and doing it.
The problem is that these people are few and far between, with the majority of students leaning more heavily to the apathetic axis of the enthusiasm scale. It will be interesting to see what effect this has on the SU’s #RESRIGHTSNOW campaign this week.
As good and just as the campaign is, it will not achieve anything if students don’t get behind it. The students of UCD need to get out in numbers for the march on Thursday if they want to actually effect a change, they can’t just click ‘attending’ on an even on Facebook.
For all the work that social media did to help coordinate the Arab Spring, it is the enemy of first world activism. People think that leaving some angry comments on the event page of Alastair Campbell’s visit is the same thing as protesting at the event in person.
If people really considered Campbell to be a war criminal who should be jailed, then why the hell didn’t they show up to the event and try to block it from happening? Or even just show up and let him know what you think of him. No matter how important you think you are, he didn’t read your Facebook status.
Online movements like the anti-Kony fiasco that swept UCD last year (until people realised that the planned day of action was the same day as the UCD Ball, of course) showed that people are more concerned with appearing to be activists than actually becoming one.
The Kony phenomenon was a prime example of this. Quite how the video became so popular in the first place is still a bit of mystery, but once it became popular, its popularity became the reason it was so popular; like Paris Hilton a few years ago.
It’s hard to say whether people saw their friends sharing the video and felt that they finally had the opportunity to publically care about something, or if they just cynically saw it as another trend to be followed.
I think both arguments have merit, to be honest. Our pop culture has become so self-aware that apathy is now cool. To care about something is to have to stand out, a fact that still scares the crap out of some people.
It goes back to that great irony that society celebrates people from the past who weren’t afraid to go against the culture at the time in order to make a change they thought was necessary, yet it ostracises anyone who dares to step out of line in the present.
This isn’t the only reason for the level apathy among students at the moment. Part of it could well be disillusionment with the SU after years of fiscal irresponsibility, something that has admittedly been addressed now.
UCDSU President, Mícheál Gallagher’s decision to focus this year’s campaigns more local than in previous years must be commended. The fact that UCD abuse their position as a trusted university to get students to agree to a residential licence that gives them less rights than private tenants is nothing short of disgraceful.
It is surprising that there has not been more uproar about this before. This is something that all students, not just students who live on campus, should be passionate about.
For anyone who doesn’t think that UCD has a problem with apathy, go to any English university and you’ll see the difference in the levels of student participation. It is clear that Gallagher is using the rebrand to model UCDSU off the English blueprint.
A strong SU is good for all students, as all students are automatically signed up for membership. The more active the SU is in the running of the university, the less likely we are to end up in a situation where students are treated like second-class citizens with fewer rights than the rest of society.
If students back the #RESRIGHTSNOW campaign in numbers, it could be the start of changing the culture to one of activism, instead of the current system of indifference. If not, who cares, right?