Column: Student apathy and our lineage of scholarship: Will the revolution continue?

By George Ploss

How many times a day do we hear the phrase “forget it” or some derivative a little more profane? How often do we convince ourselves that our struggle or cause will have no effect and as a result retreat deeper within ourselves, worrying only about ourselves?

Learning, labor, giving and liberation – our goals that have become diluted by a fast-changing, distracting and materialistic world – will inevitably be lost if we don’t spark change or continue to fight the ongoing struggle that our parents, grandparents and ancestors died for. They bled so we could go to school. They were kicked, spat on and lynched so we could have a Black Congratulatory Committee, a freshmen orientation day and an African-American Cultural Center. Yet according to the Illinois Board of Education, only one of four black male freshmen go on to graduate.

Black alumni come back and wonder where our unification has gone. We think the struggle is over, but the battles have only become less overt. It takes more concentration and focus to help what is the academically worst demographic on campus and in the country. Our parents and grandparents didn’t have the access and tools we have, yet we will be the first generation that sends more of our brothers to jail than to college. In no way am I saying that there aren’t macro factors that contribute to this institutionally oppressive system. I am saying that our biggest resource in uplifting ourselves back on the plateau for which Project 500 paved the way is ourselves.

It is by no means simply OK to speak to another black person on campus; it is our responsibility. On that basic level, it is the least we can do to come together, to walk with our heads high on the Quad and to nod to each other in recognition of our common struggle. In the fallout era of integration we have segregated ourselves and at best inconsistently connected in black Greek organizations and a few social events.

It seems as if the overall disconnect of the diaspora has manifested itself in the relatively small black population on campus. We’re simply suffering because of it, and we either don’t realize how serious it is or just don’t care.

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“People who try to create awareness on campus are shut down because they believe racism in general doesn’t exist,” says Victoria Whiteside, senior and president of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority. “Most of them don’t feel the need to give back to other black students because they’re more worried about self.”

She, along with a handful of other student organizations on campus, have been going through hell and high water in working progressively to encourage ownership and involvement in the University’s 40,000 students, mainly through our counterparts in the struggle.

Wiser heads of the black community have shed light on the subject as well. Nathaniel Banks, chairman of the African-American Cultural Center, said, “I think we’ve changed on how groups do everything because we’re more individually focused. But I remember hearing that same complaint when I was in college. … So I think it’s a part of student development.”

At the beginning of the semester we have a golden opportunity to continue the revolution of progressive change, developing a community of involvement and higher expectations for each other, or to fail our people and be all for self.

We should be the first-choice university for a student of color in Illinois, yet we can’t even keep our retention rate high enough to quote our statistics faithfully. It falls back on us, the bearers of this legacy of struggle, change, death and life. The continuance of our education is our responsibility. Will it be washed away in the sea of apathy, or will we continue the fortitude of our proud people? One Love.