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The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

Students need to reclaim their power for change

“What is at stake are no longer symbolic gestures, but real actions. And if it comes to this, you must desert your universities, leave your classrooms in order to carry the word across America.””You must now- and you have the physical, material, and intellectual means to do so – you must face life directly and no longer in comfortable aquariums – I mean the American universities- which raise goldfish capable of no more than blowing bubbles.”

These are words with which Jean Genet, infamous playwright, addressed an audience of Yale students May 20, 1970 to communicate to them the importance of their political lives related to supporting Bobby Seal.

He warned them, “Your real life depends on the Black Panther Party.”

This is what all students as successors of power have yet to realize: that our political lives are our real lives.

As a first-year student I know that Guilford has a rich supply of intellectual compassion that could be harnessed for real change, but I also know that this potential for change is stifled by the emphasis this institution places on tangible achievement and prestige.

In the past nine months, I witnessed structural racism, outright bigotry, ignorance, overt scapegoating, and the classic American gloss-over. As a person who came to Guilford to engage in substantive analytical learning of the world that I have inherited, I am disappointed.

Let’s be honest: Guilford has a reputation. I can’t count how many times I have heard the phrases “Underground Railroad” and “Accepted Japanese students during internment.” That is wonderful, and I did make my decision to come here so that I would be a part of an institution that has a legacy of dissent, but I didn’t come here to be pummeled with the philosophy that “that kind of dissent” is outdated and ineffective.

The Black Panthers, whatever controversy they connote, inspire because they recognized that the world could not be fixed “one problem at a time” when it was built on problems creating and perpetuating one another. Yet this year I found the attitude to “allow change to happen.”

This makes me wonder whether in the aftermath of a generation that held true hope for improving human society, we as products of their critical but flawed efforts have the conviction to use our strengths to create opportunity for a more just world when we are told – and are telling ourselves – there is none.

Every morning, I wake up and think, “My god, I am brushing my teeth in a racist, sexist, capitalist society that is, as I floss and rinse, committing acts of imperialist tyranny throughout the world. I am a bad person. Why can’t I stop brushing my teeth in a racist, sexist, capitalist society? What is wrong with me?”

I asked my friends how they could go on as usual once they learn how imperiled the world is. They usually choose among a myriad of ways to say, “Why are you bothering me with that political crap,” or “I’m educating myself so I can better change it” with a “I-have-to-secure-my-place-in-this-system-in-case-the-revolution-never-comes” tone.

Many times, they skip off to discuss approaching one isolated problem that they think can be changed without bothering with the others – because those efforts look good on rsums for D.C. internships.

Guilford students have an internal reputation for complaining freely and acting sparingly, but I have seen students trying to take concrete action thwarted by perceived power of this, and greater, institutions. Even when openly defying hegemonic intimidation, they fall prey to covert societal signals.

Outside of theoretical analysis of complacency, there is a mandate I give: from whatever is usurping your power – (the government, society’s expectations or this school’s institutional intimidation) – take it back.

That is the vaguest call for change in history, but it’s all I’ve got for you. Take it back. Everyone says the great upsetting of unquestioned norms that took place during this community’s heyday was a product of unique circumstances that cannot be duplicated: a widening gap between economic classes, racial tensions, civil unrest abroad, an unpopular war.

Despite that sounding exactly like the times we live in now, it should not matter. All of these calls to wait – for the right time, circumstances, leaders – are just making it more possible for racist, sexist capitalism to continue as a reality.

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