I really, really want you to give a shit about poor people. That’s all.
The politics of this university are pretty hard and fast. Many of us abide by conventionally liberal ideology, tout ourselves as activists, visibly (and maybe a little performatively) sneer at any policy which fails to acknowledge our era of supposed progressive advancement. That’s all fine, and I’ve donned my Columbia baseball cap and played along with the persona of the politically active young adult, too. But I’m afraid of what this moral licensing has come to mean for the very legitimate sentiments I have penned here throughout the year.
Every other week, I look forward to the responses my column receives. I’ve connected more deeply with the low-income community on campus, as well as discovered incredible stories from low-income students and educators throughout the nation. Perhaps more importantly, I’ve had the pleasure of introducing those outside of this community to the most admirable aspects we possess. I’ve had the less pleasurable job of communicating our struggles, too. Nevertheless, the responses have been more than I ever could have anticipated. Response, though, is not necessarily action.
I’m glad you’re more aware. I’m glad you’re equipped with the language necessary to navigate our community and to behave as successful allies. However, I’m afraid that if there is not action to manifest these ideas, you are complicit. And if you are complicit, you are part of the perpetuation of class divides on this campus. Even more so off-campus. You are helping by reading these pieces. You are trying by reading these pieces. But have you thought to donate some money to offset some of the hunger within your own community? How have you altered your dialogue surrounding the issue of class? Have you spoken out against food insecurity, harmful financial aid policies, or the intersection between poverty and the social injustices which you do condemn publicly? Have you volunteered the time that your privileges allow you to work for these communities?
What I fear is that by grouping the issues my column presents into the “liberal” agenda, we remove accountability. To subscribe to an ideology is an inactive means of protest. The issue of poverty is urgent; we need activism. Actively. I am not condemning you, but I am asking you to start now. The work that is done in the effort of social justice is not to be usurped for the sake of trendiness or social media “wokeness.” At the end of the day, are you really so progressive if you fail to use your leverage to advance the platforms of those without? Or did you simply cherry-pick the ideology that would allow you to feel like a better human?
What I mainly intend to communicate here is that support for the impoverished is not partisan. The sentiments that I communicate are not meant to appeal to one side or another. At its core, this issue is not one which can or should be divided; every single one of us should be concerned with the well-being of our most compromised citizens. On and off campus. Humanitarian, scientist, dancer. Donkeys and elephants aside. “Liberalism” is not the antidote.
This is not ideology for liberal college students from yet another liberal college student. My point, week after week, word after word, is concise: Pay attention to poverty and do what you can to help. This goes without affiliation, without politics. Attending the branded “activist” Ivy doesn’t grant you your badge of activism. You are actively harming the underprivileged in your inaction. Condemning campus publications as “liberal echo chambers” does not mean you are free to look away. You are allowing your party lines to rub away your duty to humanity. I don’t think I’m being radical in suggesting that we can all look each other in the face and agree: It is bad that people are going hungry. It is bad that people do not have homes to live in. We do not like that, and we should fix that. So why are we politicizing these issues? Why the insistence to actively divide instead of actively advocate?
While it is perhaps good fun to scrutinize establishments and their poster boys, we must do so with the intent of achieving accountability and support, not just for the sake of shaking the table. While we are entitled (and encouraged) to develop our ideologies and beef up the arguments we use to defend our moral positions, we must do our best to avoid falling into patterns of bipartisanism in place of addressing certain humanitarian issues as issues which we must jointly and universally condemn.
Because these compromised peoples really, really need us to give a shit about them. That’s all.
Alexa Roman is a sophomore in Columbia College studying English. She works with the First-Generation Student Advisory Board to address prominent issues in the low-income community on campus. You’re Still Not Middle Class runs alternate Mondays.
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