Change the World from the Couch?

With the string of tragedies this fall, students across the nation are voicing their discontent; we see the tweets, the Facebook posts and the Instagram captions. And USF is no different. However, the Foghorn staff has noticed that very few USF students actually put actions behind their hashtags. The mass majority of students engage in something called “armchair activism,” or activism that one can do from the comfort of a couch on their mobile device. Of course, there are USF students putting their hearts and souls into truly “changing the world from here.” However, the staff of the Foghorn feels that these students are met with a mostly lethargic audience from their fellow students.


USF is a specific case among universities, as the administration totes social justice as our core value. The University offers lots of opportunities for students to participate through events or lectures. Yet, student engagement remains disproportionately low. In light of the candlelight vigil for the Las Vegas shooting and the donation drive for Hurricane Harvey, the Foghorn staff has been paying particular attention to students’ participation in social justice on campus. Both events, which supported causes widely tweeted and talked about by students, received low support from the very same group. The donation drive mostly received contributions from neighbors (not students) and was forced to remain open a day longer to make up for few donations. The vigil for the victims of Las Vegas only had five students, with mostly faculty and staff attending.


It is important to note these examples do not speak for every student. For example, in the Hurricane Harvey case, there were a group of students who traveled to Texas to help victims — certainly the antithesis of armchair activism. Latinas Unidas, a student organization, summoned a group of 50 students and denounced the DACA decision earlier this fall.


As students of USF, we are given ample opportunities to get involved in social justice causes. The two events mentioned in this piece are perfect examples. Yet, the truth is expressed in how few students attended these events.


It is difficult and we face a lot of responsibilities as students. We are worn down by waves of projects, homework and exams. It is not that we are utterly indifferent to the causes of social justice. Perhaps instead, it is just that students face a rigorous education that prevents them from going out and making change.


However, even that does not explain the consistent lack of involvement in on-campus social justice projects. Classes come up for everyone, but we’re not in class all hours fo the day. Surely, there is enough time to give up an hour to support a cause you tweeted about by going to a USF event. Members of the Foghorn watched as people passed by PASJ’s Be/Longing van parked in Gleeson Plaza, and the Sukkot tent just next to St. Ignatius. The van stood to bring awareness to homeless and DACA student populations. The Sukkot tent is for a celebration of Jewish identity across many ethnicities. Both were ignored by the majority of USF students.


The low participation in these past events doesn’t just hurt those affected by tragedy, but also conveys a message about the school. For students who are tweeting about causes, we consider no excuses not to participate in some form of social justice on campus. The University has invested heavily in social justice on campus. Like the two recent examples, USF takes pains to inform students of these events and allows access on campus. However, the turnout still suffers.


This apathy present on campus is not restricted to the recent school-sponsored events.


Students must study and uphold their responsibilities on campus. We have jobs both on-campus and off. We have friends, relationships and family which demand our time. We as the Foghorn recognize the immense pressure on students and the time it requires to complete their degree. Yet, we implore the students of USF to channel their social justice values communicated over social media toward events on campus.


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