Idealism: a rare quality

By Jeffrey Gustafson

The following is a faithfully transcribed dialogue that occurred less than six months ago between myself and a random woman on the main campus drag at the University of Southern California:

Woman: “Well hi! What’s this?”

Me: “Uh, we’re just trying to raise awareness about the genocide currently happening in Darfur [points head suggestively towards large sign reading “Students Taking Action Now Darfur].”

Woman: “Oh, gosh, a genocide?”

Me: “Yeah. Would you like an information sheet?”

Woman: “Sure.”

[Long silence as the sheet is perused].

Woman: “Well that’s awful! I mean, if someone did that to me, I mean, I’d be pretty mad!…”

Me: “Yes, ma’am. Yes, I would be upset as well.”

This thankfully represents both the most extreme ignorance I encountered and the most obvious passive-aggressive behavior I was forced to exhibit at USC. Still, it was not difficult to find people woefully unaware of such things on a regular basis. And USC is not unique in this regard.

My one month at Macalester has provided me with many pages worth of what sets it apart from places like USC – the dominance of soccer over football, the lack of a Greek system, the remarkable eloquence with which students are able to relate how wasted they were the other night – but the most significant factor is its propensity to attract and create students of strong political, social, and moral convictions. Sadly, this also seems to be the factor most taken for granted. I was impressed with the straightforward, comprehensive analysis given by Timothy Den Herder-Thomas of Macalester’s fuel statistics and how they relate to global warming in the Mac Weekly’s Sept. 22 edition. I was saddened when opinion editor Matt Won commented that Den Herder-Thomas represents “the old Macalester,” by which he meant the part that takes their idealism as seriously as every other aspect of the college life.

Being at a place like Macalester for a long time might foster the assumption that all college students are generally well-informed and idealistic. Well, I just transferred from a school whose main political legacy was the burning of Jane Fonda in effigy during a pro-Vietnam War demonstration in the 1970s. I have witnessed firsthand the dregs of collegiate apathy, ignorance, and arrogance. Macalester is bound by none of these, but if the dichotomy of “old” and “new” is accurate, it is bound nonetheless.