Less than eight weeks before the US presidential election, not a
single campaign flier can be found on New York University's campus.
Instead, students are rallying against sweatshops, vowing to
abolish the death penalty, and dancing to Bob Marley's once-
revolutionary reggae at the student-clubs street fair.
"Students are really disillusioned with the political system we
have," says history major Rebekah Wolf, as she displays a "Free
Tibet" flag at her table. "It's easier to be involved in social
issues because they are moral issues. Politics doesn't seem to have
any sort of heart anymore."
With voter turnout rates among young people expected to hit
historic lows this fall, it's easy to see why today's college
students have been labeled as indifferent, apathetic - even
But the students themselves say that's not the case. Rather,
they're finding other outlets for political activism, most of which
are outside mainstream venues. By targeting specific causes, such as
the environment, or volunteering in the local soup kitchen, many
feel they're having a greater impact.
"I don't think that students are apathetic," says NYU comparative
media major Darcy Savit. Many young people are choosing to get
involved in grass roots campaigns, she says, where "it seems like
the effect is more immediate."
Indeed, 60 percent of students say they prefer community
volunteerism to political engagement as a better way to solve
important issues facing the country, according to a national survey
of college undergraduates conducted by the Institute of Politics at
Harvard University. More and more students are volunteering as
tutors, staffing homeless shelters, and providing companionship for
adults and children with AIDS.
This interest in social activism and volunteering gives some
experts cause to be optimistic about today's youths, despite the low
"I think that college students and young people in general are
much more politically active than we give them credit for," says CNN
Headline's Michele Mitchell. "Young people feel disenfranchised from
what's happening on the national scene, but they feel very involved
in what's happening in their own backyards."
In some cases, this community activism can spark an interest in
politics. At New York's Columbia University, students are
registering to vote at the same table they are signing up with
"Community Impact," a community service organization.
"People who are conscious about the community tend to be
conscious of overarching political issues," says Columbia student
and volunteer Miriam Sheinbein. …