Campus silent as war talk expands

Seth Freedland

When Sara Kaufman protested against a potential war with Iraq in front of the Chicago Tribune building in the fall, she expected her presence at the newspaper office to make a lasting impression.

Instead, the rally was met by complete silence.

“There was not one reporter, no cameras,” said Kaufman, a Communication sophomore. “No one was paying attention.”

With a potential war looming, Northwestern’s campus — from Deering Meadow to The Rock to the administrative buildings at the Rebecca Crown Center — seems like it should be brimming over with passionate protesters carrying signs and shouting slogans.

But Deering Meadow remains home only to frozen frisbee players, The Rock showcases mostly Greek pledge classes, and Rebecca Crown’s courtyard echoes with silence.

The prospect of war hasn’t exactly galvanized the NU’s campus. In fact, the few politically active students say they are disappointed with the student body’s refusal to break from its longstanding apathetic stereotype.

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Mateo Hinojosa, a member of Northwestern Opposing War and Racism, said students can’t expect to impact the national debate unless they make their voices heard.

“At this point, student voice has been fairly weak,” said Hinojosa, a Communication sophomore. “I believe that students have a fresh point of view. … We have a responsibility to question the way our country is moving. It is distressing to see the indifference of people our age.”

NOWAR, which was created last year, hopes to start a meaningful dialogue about the war on campus that will lead to a new sense of activism, Hinojosa said. The group plans to hold a Peace Week starting Monday, complete with a march, guerrilla theater, an open mic event, a concert, a phone call with an Iraqi resident and a rally with speakers.

“All of our organization is going into Peace Week,” Hinojosa said. “It’s ambitious, but I’ve noticed that our NOWAR meetings have been growing — more and more people want to get involved.”

Alison Pezanoski-Browne, a member of NOWAR and a Communication freshman, sees the near future as just the beginning of a new campus activism.

“What we’re doing the next month is going to be critical,” she said. “I just got started with NOWAR, and I know more and more students have gone to their first meeting recently. The momentum of activism is definitely rolling.”

But some student leaders are doubful that NU will rally behind Peace Week. They remember a lack of enthusiasm on campus for other hot-button national issues — and aren’t sure the Iraq situation will be any different.

“I know a lot of students here who are hesitant to get overtly involved politically,” said Jonathan Powell, president of Students for Israel. “Some people call this apathy, but unlike many campuses, students here want to learn. But they haven’t gotten enough information to make absolute choices.”

Powell’s organization has seen campus activism — just not from NU students. He recalls when Students for Israel brought an Israeli official to speak on the failed peace process.

“A few (pro-Palestinian) people came in and protested and tried shouting people down,” said Powell, a Weinberg sophomore. “They brought in small signs and shouted in the middle of the talk. It was a difficult situation. Many were walking out. But none were students. The Muslim students who came were the best audience members there.”

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The problems facing protests are not limited to student apathy. Outside forces, such as the media, can make or break a political event, leaders said.

Kasim Arshad, vice president of the Muslim-cultural Students Association, noted a direct connection between media coverage and a rally’s effectiveness. Holding a protest in a major city — not on a college campus — helps attract attention.

“Citywide protests have definitely been more successful,” Arshad said. “Back when NATO was thinking about going into Kosovo, there were protests in Milwaukee. Whenever we had a protest it was always on the evening news. People were getting educated on different issues by the news. Without the protest, awareness would not have taken place.”

College Republicans President Katie Althen said protests can be helped by a lack of publicity on an issue. Althen protested against abortions when she trekked to Washington, D.C., for a March for Life. Because media outlets don’t generally cover the anti-abortion point of view, Althen said her rally filled the publicity gap.

Althen said that anti-war opinion does not suffer from the same lack of exposure.

“There’s been a lot of negative publicity over the possibility with war with Iraq,” she said. “There’s enough negative publicity that protests won’t be doing any true purpose.”

Arshad remained doubtful that a successful city protest could ever be effective on campus.

“At NU, I don’t know if it would make Chicago news,” he said. “If I protest at NU, will that impact foreign policy? Probably not.”