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October 31, 1986 - Image 22

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1986-10-31
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w w w w w w - - w w












It may seem like students of the
money and materialism, and

'80s care about
not much else.

But appearances disguise something much


By Rebecca Blumenstein

Sociologists, politicians, journalists, and students have
offered plenty of speculation about attitudes on college
campuses across the country. We're apathetic, liberal, neo-
activists, conservative, or all of the above, depending on who
you believe.
Michigan students have come under particularly close
scrutiny. Ann Arbor, along with Berkeley and Madison, was
a center of national protest in the 1960s. U-M students staged
the first sit-ins. Tom Hayden's Students for a Democratic
Society was born here.
But a decade-and-a-half later, those former students are the
Big Chill generation, calmed and career-oriented role models
for today's students. Michigan's once-fervent student body,
many say, has become politically polite; conservative, and
content with society as it is, interested more in making
money than mobilizing for change.
As it turns out, the picture-and perhaps the student
body-is more sophisticated than that.
According to an elaborate study by Sam Eldersveld, a
political science professor and former mayor of Ann Arbor,
the student activism and awareness that characterized the
1960s is not dead, just dormant-it may return, under the
right conditions.
"Don't write off students of today just because they aren't
morally outraged at society," said Eldersveld. "Their forms of
involvement are just more sophisticated. They won't jump
into something without the feeling that something can be
Eldersveld's survey is a rare source of "hard data" on the
subject, the first formal study of Michigan students in over
15 years. Last fall he conducted the project with his
American Political Parties class. Students interviewed 200
LSA sophmores and seniors, along with over 40 campus
leaders in political organizations.
The study sought to determine how liberal or conservative
Michigan's students are, chart their political affiliation and
voting behavior, and guage their potential to become
politically active on campus.
About 100 students participated in the interviewing
process during the fall term, and 20 stayed on through an
Blumenstein is a Daily staff reporter.

independent study program to help compile the data during
winter semester. Jennifer Adolph, an LSA senior who worked
on the entire project, had many positive conclusions about
what was discovered through the survey.
"We were shocked at how many wanted to participate in
the survey. I didn't see apathy as a motivating force behind
even a small percentage of those who I talked to," Adolph
"There is no excuse for ignorance, though, and it was
dissappointing to see how many didn't really seem to be
aware of the world surrounding them," she added.
Mark Rose, another LSA senior who worked on the
survey, sensed a general interest by students in world affairs.
But they are discouraged from becoming active, he said, by
feelings of helplessness.
"I've concluded that students of today still do care about
more beside themselves, but they may just express it in a
different way," Rose said. "For many that I interviewed the
gap between themselves and the political process was so
large that they tended to withdraw themselves. The decisions
that we have to make about our future are always getting
bigger and bigger, and when you have someone else out there
to decide the rest for you, its easy just to let someone else do
But Eldersveld's survey found that, despite these
tendencies, political efficacy, the belief that one can make a
difference, is far from dead.
Although only four per cent of the sophmores surveyed
and five percent of seniors had ever participated in a sit-in,
about three-quarters of respondents had- signed petitions for a
cause that they believed in. "Real activism"-involvment in
a rally or joining a political organization-was generally
confined to a small set of students.
Eldersveld is quick to point out that this doesn't mean that
students of today are apathetic and unaware of world
surrounding them. One of the survey's most surprising
discoveries was that the "potential" for activism at Michigan
is great. Over half of the sophmores surveyed will work for a
campus political organization, participate in a rally or
demonstations, or write a letter of protest-"under certain
circumstances." Moreover, one-third to one-half expressed an
interest in more "hard core" techniques such as helping to
organize a rally or petition drive.
This indicates a latent readiness to act if the issue at stake
is considered important. For example, if the United States
invaded Nicaragua, about half of the students said they would
consider taking action, with opponents of the invasion

outnumbering supporters ft
An impressive 85 perc(
they would probably or de
governing student condi
consideration-if it was c
information is of grea
administration, ever-mindfi
campus during the '60s anc
But there's no doubt ti
conservative, at least relati
concluded that a majority c
conservativism, with m
identifying themselves as I
they think his administrat
economy and increased the
"One of our most si
economic concerns has afi
concerns, and mobility," sa
college education no longe
from two decades ago.
In the '60s the America
greatest period of growth
according to Aldon Mc
Michigan was an upper cla
elite education that wouli
society's privileged jobs.
"It's easy to glorify the
aspirations embodied all,'
important to remember tha
with activism were a self
disproporionately concent
Indeed, the vast majoril
like Hayden's SDS and ti
heavily concentrated in tl
Similarly, Eldersveld's sur
students are less active a
those students who lean me
But there is a difference
of the '60s to expect a
graduation; today that is ha


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