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Tobias '12: Too busy to care?

There has been a lot of discussion recently about the apparent lack of activism at Brown. Helen McDonald '14 accused the University of not caring about racism ("Who cares about Trayvon Martin?" April 12) in trying to explain the apparent lack of rallies and meetings in response to the killing of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black 17-year-old, by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer.

These sentiments have been echoed on other issues. In October, when the Occupy movement was at its peak, only about 30 people attended the Occupy College Hill assembly meeting, suggesting to organizers a lack of campus engagement to fight privilege and inequality. Closer to home, when it came to the debate for the next Undergraduate Council of Students president, only about 65 percent of the new Metcalf Auditorium was filled, according to Chip Lebovitz's '14 column ("Response to the UCS/UFB candidate debate," April 13).

There just seems to be a lack of enthusiasm from the student body about fighting racism and inequality or concerning themselves with the major issues facing the University. Why don't more Brown students care?

One answer is pretty obvious: Brown students are extremely busy. Most are involved in some kind of sport or student group and spend hours each week in meetings, internships and practice sessions. On top of that, students are constantly striving for academic excellence. An editorial in The Herald ("Allergic to B's," April 9) pointed out that there is greater and greater pressure on students to get As, especially since grade changes are particularly dramatic due to the lack of pluses or minuses.

I can attest to the fact that students' plates are very filled. As a senior writing an honors thesis, I have spent an unbelievable amount of time working on my project, and I am surrounded by others whose time commitments dwarf mine by an order of magnitude.

But despite being overly scheduled and busy, Brown students still manage to find time to enjoy Spring Weekend or go to the Graduate Center Bar. If they wanted to spend their time protesting outside University Hall, they could find time for it.

Except that at its essence, perhaps the reason that Brown students are not more active is that a lot of these issues aren't so black and white. Yes, Trayvon Martin's death is an unfortunate loss and the lackluster response of the local police department should be investigated. Yet, by the time the case blew up nationally, Florida's governor had already placed a special prosecutor on the case and the Department of Justice had already launched a civil rights investigation. We could have protested all we wanted to demonstrate how upset we were, but the country's leadership was already of a similar mindset. The process worked, and Zimmerman was finally arrested and charged.

Even Occupy Wall Street, despite good intentions, was not clearly a right or wrong issue. The idea that there is a 99 percent versus a top 1 percent creates unnatural divisions and lumps people from broad spectrums together. A pair of married doctors whose incomes just barely meet the one percent threshold - $380,000 - and are trying to raise a family in Manhattan have little in common with billionaires. Furthermore, the top Democratic leadership has heard the call and is now pushing for the "Buffett Rule" to increase taxes on the highest earners.

Because current issues are somewhat more ambiguous, the result is that there just isn't one cause celebre uniting students of this generation. In the '60s, there were serious civil rights abuses. A rogue neighborhood watch volunteer claiming self-defense would barely have made the cut of crimes to focus on when there were lynch mobs. In the '70s, students had the universally vilified Vietnam War to rally against. Today, our leadership has already ended the war in Iraq and is scrambling to get us out of Afghanistan, just as soon as it can figure out how to do so without leaving the country in chaos. Perhaps there would be more rallies against the war if there was a draft, but we don't really have a better exit strategy to advocate than the current leadership.

As a result of lacking a single cause, we are a student body divided. Some focus on marriage equality, some on increasing the University's financial contributions to Providence, some on peace in the Middle East - the list goes on and on. While many lament the apparent lack of campus engagement, the truth is that it is incredible how active students can be about their pet issues, despite their overloaded schedules.


Ethan Tobias '12 thanks the readers for taking the time to consider his opinions and think about which issues should unite our generation. He can be reached at



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