A recent study by four Wesleyan students called into question the student body’s commitment to activism. Researchers Nicole Gray ’08, Anthony Le ’09, Jermaine Lewis ’09, and Marika Tabilio ’09 found that the University’s reputation may exaggerate the level of on-campus activism. The results expressed concerns that “apathy has taken over what used to be one of the most politically active campuses in America.”
The survey focused on the dissatisfaction with the Usdan University Center and the resulting mid-September boycott. In one instance, the researchers predicted that University students who went to public school would be more interested in low dining prices than worker health benefits, which often result in an increase in prices. University students from private school, on the other hand, would be more interested in health benefits over dining prices, they predicted. Ultimately, and contrary to the predictions, the two groups of students were equally concerned that students were being overcharged by Bon Appétit.
A majority of respondents believed that collective protest could yield positive changes in the policies of the University and that individual students could have an impact.Sixty-three percent of surveyed students said that they agreed with the stated goals of the boycott, which were lowering prices, supporting the union, and improving service. However, only 17 percent of surveyed students joined the boycott. The authors were concerned with this apparent “disconnect between belief and behavior” at Wesleyan. The low levels of participation in the boycott stood in sharp contrast to the over 65 percent of students who claimed to have participated in activism while at the University. Meanwhile, only 42 percent of women and 32 percent of men had participated in protests off-campus.
The study also uncovered a commonly held belief that activism is vital to the college campus. Eighty-two percent of graduates of private high schools and 52 percent of graduates from public schools answered that it was important for college students to be social activists. Seventy-four percent of students from public schools said they were attracted to Wesleyan because of its reputation for social activism, while only 47 percent of private school did.
Despite this commitment to activism, fewer than half participated in community service or volunteer work. Combined with the low proportion of students participating in a protest outside of the University, this might suggest a disconnect between on-campus activism and community involvement, the researchers concluded.