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University Noted For Activism
By Ray Quintanilla, Sentinel Columnist
September 5, 2004
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Where are the activists of the future?
Not the activists who show up at the Republican National Convention yet disappear once the television cameras are turned off.
Activists such as Rosa Parks and Cesar Chavez, people who helped us see ourselves differently and at the same time learned to endure for espousing ideas out of the mainstream. One could also mention Illinois' U.S. Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, a Puerto Rican, who helped persuade the U.S. military to stop bombing the island of Vieques.
Our best hope might be at our universities once again, and the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez has a leg up on everyone else, according to a new national survey by the national magazine Mother Jones.
Perhaps our next generation of activists will come from Puerto Rico. Wouldn't that be great?
What's for sure, however, is that for three decades, our college campuses have been eerily quiet, with student activism looking more like a Disney parade.
Don't get me wrong; there's no room for violence on our campuses. But with war raging in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a war on terror at home, it has become clear our young people are shaking things up again.
The Mother Jones survey indicates our students are concerned about real issues cutting across the political spectrum. That's a welcome contrast to the 1980s when young people seemed too caught up in the "Decade of Greed." The 1990s weren't much better, with political discourse on campus being overrun by cheap computers and cell phones.
The University of Puerto Rico bears watching as an example of students, in their own unique way, confronting today's major issue: the war in Iraq. In Mayaguez, about 30 students took control of an ROTC building this year, protesting "too much investment in war, rather than students."
They also painted anti-war murals. A few weeks later, the school decided to drop its investment in the ROTC facility. It now plans to put those dollars into expanding classroom space. No one got hurt.
At the University of California at Los Angeles, students are upset about events in the Middle East. At Spelman College, a historically black women's university, gangsta rappers are being called on the carpet for "sexist music videos."
What's next? A college reunion tour for Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young? Or a growing demand for the angst-ridden "My Generation" by The Who? Or maybe James Brown's 1960s rallying cry: "Say it Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud."
Here's what you should know about UPR students: Many grow up feeling like second-class U.S. citizens. They live on an island that isn't represented on Old Glory. Nor are they part of a nation. Young people can be sent off to fight in wars, but they can't legally cast a ballot for their commander in chief.
Most are born into poverty, and they go on to graduate from some of the most troubled public schools in the hemisphere.
Their activism reminds me of a quote from Frederick Douglass, a man widely scorned in his day: "Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, are men . . . who want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters."
Go to MotherJones.com to see the rest of the list. Let's hope this is just the beginning.