It has become increasingly obvious that students at Williams are comforted by a familiar sense of complacency. Rarely do we find students, or even the faculty and staff, challenging themselves to make politics relevant in their daily lives. Granted, there is the age-old argument that Williams students are overcommitted and super-busy and that our impressive faculty is off exploring and writing books. But to what extent are we being unfaithful to the “Williams College Mission and Purpose,” which clearly states, “Williams seeks to provide the finest possible liberal arts education by nurturing in students … academic and civic virtues”? The mission statement goes on to argue that civic virtues “include commitment to engage both the broad public realm and community life, and the skills to do so effectively.” If we have all chosen to attend or teach at Williams, should we not also be committed to the ideals that form the very fabric of our social existences? Or do we just have to confront the blunt reality that most people just don’t care about the policy issues facing our nation?
Recent events epitomize our political apathy on campus. While the election of President Obama in 2008 was undoubtedly a moment of inspiration for our generation, we must remember that simply voting does not mean one can claim to be an engaged citizen. One must stay involved and informed, realizing that the presidency is just one part of our government. This fall, when casually asked whether they voted or not, students commonly responded, “Yeah, I voted for Obama.” Clearly, it was unknown to many that the equally important mid-term elections occurred last fall, and, unsurprisingly, the Republicans gained control of the House of Representatives and narrowed the Democratic majority in the Senate. Young people, especially liberals, are largely responsible for the changed demographics in Congress: Only 20 percent of eligible voters ages 18-29 actually voted in 2010, compared to the 49.5 percent seen in the 2008 election. That’s pathetic.
Fast forward to last Friday. Disagreement among the House and the Senate about the budget for the remainder of the year nearly resulted in a government shutdown, which would have laid off 800,000 federal workers. One of the major disagreements over the bill stemmed from the Republicans’ proposal to repeal Title X of the Public Health Service Act, which consists of less than 0.01 percent of annual federal spending (demonstrating Republicans’ real social agenda offered under the guise of deficit reduction). The bill would have eliminated $317 million in funds for women’s health services, most of which goes to Planned Parenthood. Contrary to popular belief, federal funding for abortions is illegal under the Hyde Amendment and is not included in Title X. That money allotted for women’s health goes to patient education and counseling, breast and pelvic examinations, breast and cervical cancer screening, STD and HIV prevention education, counseling, testing and referral and pregnancy diagnosis and counseling.
Regardless of where you stand on these issues, they directly affect young people, especially the uneducated and poor, and deserve our attention. We are the leaders of tomorrow, the ones who should embrace our power of privilege and use it for the betterment of everyone, not just ourselves. Faculty and staff, you have the potential to truly inspire generations of students to become leaders who take pride in representing people of all backgrounds. Students, we must appreciate our limited time here and recognize our potential to inspire change beyond the walls of Paresky Center and Hopkins Hall.
Whether or not you care about Planned Parenthood or our nation’s deficit, take the time to be informed. Pick up a newspaper, read a blog or watch the news because undoubtedly there is something you care about.