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Henry Willson / Staff Photographer

The CU General Assembly meets on Lehman Lawn.

A new wave of Columbia activists is trying to revive a piece of the spirit of 1968. Columbia students gained a reputation for advocating social change in 1968, seizing a number of University buildings and barring administrators from entering until their demands were met. That feeling of activism is seeing a resurgence this year, campus leaders say. Two movements that swept the nation—the protests against Troy Davis's execution and the Occupy Wall Street movement—also reached Columbia, leading to hundreds of students turning out at a vigil for Davis in September and taking trips downtown in support of the Occupy movement in October. CU Activists, a coalition dedicated to organizing students across the undergraduate and graduate schools in order to bring about change, was formed this year, and Students Promoting Empowerment and Knowledge, which encourages the study of ethnic, women's, and gender studies, was revived this year after disbanding following the 2007 hunger strikes. Kassy Lee, CC '13 and a member of campus activist groups, said that an aversion to activism was eased with the graduation of the class of 2011. That was the last class present during the 10-day hunger strike in 2007, when students protested the lack of funding for the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race and the Manhattanville expansion. "I know a lot of them, the activist types, were heavily involved and saw the strain of that on them, and I think that kind of made them shy away from really radical campus organizing," Lee said. These factors have led student leaders to believe that activism may play a stronger role on campus this year. Yoni Golijov, CC '12 and member of the Barnard/Columbia International Socialist Organization, outlined some of the factors influencing the 1968 protesters: "They had a racist expansion, the gym being built in Morningside Heights with a back entrance for community members they had the war in Vietnam, and they had ROTC on campus." Golijov, who has been one of the leading voices in the Occupy marches, said that the "time is ripe" for activism because of similar conditions. "So now we have three wars, at least, we have another racist expansion, and we have ROTC back on campus, and we want to have a voice. There are student groups popping up just everywhere radicals, liberals, progressives, conservatives, whatever." Jessie Stoolman, BC '14 and publicity chair of Lucha, the campus Latino activist group, said she is unsure about whether the interest in activism will last "once this momentum kind of cools down, once Occupy ends." "But definitely, if you just took September and October as examples for Columbia, that's more [activism] than I've ever seen," she said. One way to sustain interest, said Cindy Gao, CC '12 and political chair of the Asian American Alliance, could be to "tap into a broader constituency and mobilizing around the question of, 'What do you want from your education?'" Strengthening the Center for Career Education and financial aid policies and challenging the Core Curriculum are all issues that have appeal across campus, she said. Students described this latest interest in activism as a shift from recent years. "I think that a lot of students feel ... the University doesn't really care how the students feel, how the community feels, or how anyone else feels," Lee, a member of SPEaK, said. "They're just going to do what they want to do." Amanda Torres, BC '12 and vice chair of Lucha, agreed. "I think it's interesting that Columbia has a rep for being such a liberal college, because it's not really something I've seen here," she said. Stoolman said she feels students are divided into three categories. "There's an activist bubble, an apathetic bubble, and the reactionary bubble, and not much I feel like in the middle, people who are down with stuff but maybe don't want to go to events," she said. Activists remain cautiously hopeful for a resurgence for social change. "I think right now we're at a new wave of Columbia activism," Golijov said. "It's beautiful because people are making it a priority again."

Troy Davis Occupy Wall Street activism
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