Upon passing through the Front Arch one morning last week, I saw a brightly coloured poster adorning the top of the doorway, proclaiming the issue du jour – Equality and Diversity Week 2013, a week to remind us that labels “are for jars, not people.” It was the inaugural week of its kind; a new proposition from our incumbent sabbats, with the rather vague and unquantifiable aim of “raising awareness and acceptance of diversity within the college.”
I have always questioned the need for the Student’s Union to make each week of the college experience have a theme, a particular topic that the student body is suppose to collectively turn over in their minds. One week, we care about mental health issues. The next, we will crusade for the rights of those with disabilities. This week we cared about equality, cared so much that we made a short video soundtracked with an uplifting song and watched quasi-relevant films. After this, we will have a small interval during which we decide what other topic needs discussing, whatever box needs to be ticked, and for the occasion we might even go so far as to have a bake sale.
The SU put on a variety of events which were designed to get us into the egalitarian mind set. But truthfully I didn’t hear so much as a whisper from any of my peers about it. Considering that there are only one or two degrees of separation between each student at Trinity, this doesn’t bode well for the movement. No, I imagine the event schedule for this week was lost amidst a flurry of posters advertising mystery tours and guest speakers haphazardly superimposed onto each other around campus, distracting from the always relatively sparse Student’s Union bulletin board. Apparently this week saw with it the launch of a branch of the famous photoblog Humans of New York – dubbed ‘Humans of Trinity’, it exemplified less the diversity of the student body and more showed the kinds of students that can be gathered at short notice from around the Arts Block and convinced to pose for a photo (our brethren in the Hamilton, it would seem, do not qualify as humans). In case you were curious, these kinds of students are the types sporting an impressive array of winter hats and are most likely a friend or acquaintance of someone on the student council.
“So when the vanguards of any movement are too dispassionate, too lacklustre, what are we to do but imitate what we see?”
The political or rights-driven movements of the Student’s Union are deeply sanitised affairs, cleansed of anything that could be construed as a definitive stance. In the quest to accurately represent every individual within the college, TCDSU will opt to represent no one. Heaven forbid they asks our opinions on the matter in order to ascertain how the student body feels about the topics of the debate as that would only result in a low turnout and the burdensome tasks of counting ballots. There is always the possibility of free pizza though, and really, that’s what it’s all about. Political correctness hampers any potential for effectiveness. Far from igniting a passion in our collegiate hearts, these campaigns end up reminding us of that SPHE teacher that we all had in our adolescence, the unfortunate man or woman charged with teaching teenagers half-hearted ethics, trying to quell his/her quiet resentment for us all, and praying the day would never come that they open up the chapter that requires them to give us the sex talk. In the grand scheme of things, these campaigns are an attempt to fight against the spectre of student apathy that haunts us and portends to an emerging generation of people that care so little about anything outside themselves it’s a wonder their hearts are still inspired to pump blood. While the blame normally falls on our own heads, perhaps it’s possible that our apathy has grounds. Motivation is grounded on purpose – when one feel that what they’re doing has some higher end, some sense of meaning, it’s a lot easier to drum up enthusiasm. So when the vanguards of any movement are too dispassionate, too lacklustre, what are we to do but imitate what we see? If little effort is made to engage the student body beyond screening Edward Scissorhands and calling it a day, the disappointment from a lack of response seems a little rich.
I do not need to be told what to think of and when, nor do I need to have grand complex issues pigeon holed into one festival of appreciation before they are discarded and left to the wayside in the wake of whatever captures the short attention span of TCDSU next. University is purported to be the final stage of youth development, the place where we develop our critical thinking and establish our world views. Personally, I’m fortunate that I regarded this claim with a healthy dose of scepticism, lest I be bitterly discouraged that university activism resembles less the spirited protests I’d dreamt about and more small congregations of activists who rather resemble Ted and Dougal’s “protest” outside ‘The Passion of Saint Tibulus’. I understand the good intentions behind these attempts, but that doesn’t change the fact that going through the motions just to cross off another item on the SU Council agenda not only cheapens the issues in question, but also arouses a sense of hopelessness. This is, so it seems, what activism looks like – it’s executed in a desultory fashion and ultimately attracts little attention. If that is the fate of campaigning, surely there’s little point in trying in the first place. Perhaps my only choice is to equip myself with a thick pair of intellectual blinkers, ignore the futility of the situation and ask myself whether I could convince the powers at be that a screening of Clueless is relevant to RAG Week.