The Port Huron Statement, Tom Hayden’s 1962 manifesto for the Students for a Democratic Society and the New Left, is often considered irrelevant today. True, what was considered radical before the counterculture movement (participatory government, universal healthcare, demilitarization, etc) is now the mundane mantra of mainstream American progressives.
Yet what struck me in the statement was the relevance to modern campus life. I have always viewed Brandeis as a contrived little bubble. It’s a wonderful (and often enlightening) bubble, but one has to admit how fake it is. We construct our own universe where we can all feel like stars in a chosen field: academics, performance, or in the case of Innermost Parts, political engagement. Yet I have often felt frustrated when people forget the bubble, and treat their Brandeis proceedings with self-importance. Paradoxically, the bubble can also lead to an extreme lethargy, as students see no point in engaging themselves in broader “issues”. While the university institution certainly can lend itself to genuine political involvement, it’s difficult to strike the balance between apathy and egotism.
Fortunately, Tom Hayden echoed my feelings. Apparently things haven’t changed so much since 1962…
Apathy is not simply an attitude; it is a product of social institutions, and of the structure and organization of higher learning itself.
The extracurricular life is ordered according to in loco parentis theory, which ratifies the administration as the moral guardian of the young.
The accompanying “let’s pretend” theory of student extracurricular affairs validates student government as a training center for those who want to spend their lives in political pretense, and discourages initiative from the more articulate, honest, and sensitive students. The bounds and style of controversy are delimited before controversy begins. The university “prepares” the student for “citizenship” through perpetual rehearsals and, usually, through emasculation of what creative spirit there is in the individual.
And so, as Brandeis students continue to explore our political power on campus, let’s not forget to keep things in perspective. Our personal political expression is not limited to the confines of University institutions! Hayden would encourage us to fight alienation and powerlessness not through beurocracy, but through self-exploraion and human relations. He states that “students leave college somewhat more ‘tolerant’ than when they arrived, but basically unchallenged in their values and political orientations.” Let’s prove him wrong by remembering that college is an opportunity to explore ourselves, and not to prove ourselves within institutional confines.