A Slanted View of Student Activism

By Laurel Shaper Walters, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, November 14, 1994 | Go to article overview
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A Slanted View of Student Activism

Laurel Shaper Walters, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor

GENERATION AT THE CROSSROADS: APATHY AND ACTION ON THE AMERICAN CAMPUS By Paul Rogat Loeb Rutgers University Press 460 pp., $24.95 ON college campuses that were once hotbeds of activism, much of today's political fervor has to be imported. Outside political advocates from both the left and right are vying to get their message across to receptive young audiences.

Conservative foundations have funded right-wing journals such as the Dartmouth Review at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. And liberal groups support campus political events and student publications promoting left-leaning causes.

Paul Rogat Loeb spent the late 1980s and early '90s traveling to more than 100 college campuses to lecture about peace activism. In effect, he was a traveling salesman for the social and political causes of the left. Along the way, he decided to write a book about the political attitudes of contemporary college students. The result is "Generation at the Crossroads: Apathy and Action on the American Campus."

Loeb's goal was noble: to gain a fresh perspective on a generation long-maligned as greedy and apathetic. Unfortunately, instead of peeling away the opaque varnish of stereotypes, Loeb looks at everything through the lens of his own political views.

He defines the college students he meets as either activists or "adapters," lauding the activists and deriding the adapters. These nonactivist students view social concerns and political protest as "dangerously impractical," Loeb writes. "They share a sense of a world increasingly harsh, in which conscience is a luxury."

Adapters take the easy way out, Loeb implies. "In recent years, political withdrawal has been the automatic track at most schools," he writes. "Students have to consciously work to depart from it."

Despite Loeb's blatant biases, he offers some perceptive insights into the attitudes of this generation of college students. He understands, for example, that financial pressures and changing economic realities play an important role in the more cautious attitudes of modern students.

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