Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Activism — part of the educational process

“This. Means. War.”

I thought those words back in 1994 when a then-future, now-former girlfriend who was living in Chicago at the time got involved in a cult there and who told me that it was sending a mission team to Pittsburgh. Originally interested, I became suspicious when a male friend of hers who was trying to “recruit” me ahead of time dropped some doctrine on me that I knew to be wrong, and after doing some research I realized that this group was bad news. And since it did most of its work on the campuses of major colleges in major cities — I was taking evening classes at the University of Pittsburgh, which fit the bill in both cases — I decided to take action, breaking the news of their arrival on campus in The Pitt News, for which I served as columnist.

Eventually I became the primary counter-cult student activist, attending meetings of the former Cult Awareness Network and speaking twice to groups of students, one of which landed me on the front page of The Tartan, nearby Carnegie Mellon University’s student paper.

Though to my knowledge there really was no coordinated campaign to defeat this group and I never cut a class, my willingness to go to the mat has since proven to be one of the defining moments in my life. Several years later, author John Eldredge, who writes about masculine development in a Christian context, identified that men need “an adventure to live, a battle to fight and a beauty to rescue,” with in this case two of the three coming into play.

That might be the case with demonstrators on a number of campuses, most notably Yale University and Ithaca and Smith colleges, who are fighting racism, “rape culture” and the high cost of college, among other things. Of course the biggest salvo has recently taken place on the Columbia campus of the University of Missouri, where the president and chancellor both stepped down after members of the football team threatened to strike if they didn’t and the head coach, who probably makes more money than the two administrators combined, supported his players.

But some of their critics, whether ignorant, insensitive or just plain racist, have said that student’s shouldn’t be rocking the boat in that way, that they should simply shut up and return to their studies. However, I applaud them for the willingness to take stands because students have also caused changes — and, I suspect, grew in the process.

Two examples from the civil-rights movement: The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, which engaged in voter registration drives in the South — when it was extremely dangerous to do so. And the four students from North Carolina A&T State University who staged the first sit-in at a lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C. They got an education you simply can’t flop down tuition money to receive.

As did I 20 years ago.

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