Since I’m ineligible to enter the NYT contest I won’t necessarily try to be coherent or, to appease Perlstein, attempt to be all that creative. Creativity, with Perlstein’s blessing, is no longer something that I possess. Nor will I feign pretense and write in overly grammatical, awe inspiring prose–I’m now allowed that right? So it goes.
The first thing I want to take issue with is perhaps Perlstein’s subtle intimation that students these days don’t “[enhance] their social life with special celebrity guest speakers”. Is he serious? Today’s corporate climate makes it pretty unlikely that a simple phone call will get some big shot writer to show up at your dorm. But you know what? I’ve seen some great speakers myself. I’m interested in politics and have had the opportunity to see all the current Democratic presidential candidates speak in person (excluding Gravel), having finagled my way into the 2004 Democratic National Convention. I even got to chat and shake hands with Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton and Wes Clark (who I still consider a candidate).
Student groups have brought Dennis Kucinich and John Kerry to campus. Does Perlstein find nothing special about having the first African American female Senator come to our campus? Her pioneering spirit has made her a personal hero. Bart Ehrman, a writer of early Christianity, whom I enjoy reading and learning from was on campus recently. Does that count as anything to Perlstein? I sure found it exciting. I’m sure all readers here have at one point attended a talk with some public intellectual or artist they find exciting. (I realize the repeated use of such a banal word as “exciting” is very uncreative. I’m allowed as much, right?)
What of the “revolutionaries” of yesteryear? Well, what did they reall accomplish? They couldn’t even get the equal rights amendment passed. Vietnam went on despite their protests (OK, that’s a little oversimplified, but again, I lack creativity to explain what I mean). Etc. Do current college students attempt as many “stunts” as their forebears? Perhaps not, but they attempt reform in a different way. Take, for instance, a group that I was involved with early on in its creation: The Roosevelt Institution. College students created a self-sustaining, increasingly influential think tank specifically to influence policy. How many of our fellow students are participating in Stanford In Washington or some other internship to influence policy? Just because current students aren’t strapping themselves to trees does not mean they have lost the revolutionary spirit. No, they are much more sophisticated and savvy for that. (Oops, savvy probably isn’t boring enough a word.)
What of sitting around and discussing various issues? Well, I am constantly in conversations with fellow students about various topics: religion, philosophy, politics, global poverty, literature, music, etc. I have even contributed to a campus publication set up specifically for just such endeavors, The Black Ink Review.
I’m now approaching my 10th year in a college environment. Far from Perlstein’s sad view of college today, I see a lively and revolutionary group of people. As evilbunny points out, there are those who want a preordered experience, but there are too many who make things happen to ignore. My graduate career at Stanford has been greatly enriched by the undergraduate community. As an undergraduate in Seattle, I was around when students marched across town to protest the WTO. I sat around with little known musicians. Chatted about philosophy and religion. Worked in three research labs (and an almost full time job).
Perlstein’s college experience is the antithesis of my college experience. If I wanted to do something, I did it. The opportunity is there if we choose to take it. You can’t denigrate the entire system because there are a lot of “boring” people.