As assignments, clubs and friendships dominate our daily lives, it’s easy to lose track of the larger world on our well-manicured, marble-covered campus. Even though Emory claims that it trains students “to serve and lead in an increasingly interconnected world,” in practice, this is far from the truth. If Emory is truly “about impact,” then it must make present-day political issues unavoidable to the students who will eventually be responsible for solving them. To do so, the University could introduce new curriculum, further publicize existing resources and pool Emory’s intellectual resources to develop innovative solutions..
At present, Emory lacks an effective method to ensure that its students are adequately politically aware. While the University hosts a wide variety of forums, panels and retreats devoted to addressing vital issues on a major scale, these efforts tend to fall short. Attending these events can be difficult because they impose a fairly high opportunity cost on students: going to a panel on an important issue when you could be studying for something more pertinent to your career path might not be feasible for many students.
Students without an awareness of the most urgent issues of our time will surely be ill-equipped to make a positive impact on the world. An effective method of distributing information about the ongoing human rights abuses, natural disasters, conflicts and resource shortages which affect billions of people is the crucial first step to responding to them, preventing similar crises in the future or mitigating existing damage.
The sentiment that some segments of the population are not responsible for the world’s conditions, and that they should leave this kind of thinking to politicians, can be dangerous. This worldview can put the decisions that implicate the lives of countless people into the hands of an elite few, and it also suggests that we can wash our hands of any responsibility. A world without political awareness is one where business leaders sell their goods to despotic regimes like Saudi Arabia and where doctors only perform plastic surgery for the wealthy while millions die without sufficient medical care. It’s a world exactly like the one we live in. As such, an approach that doesn’t seek to raise awareness to change these conditions is one that’s not worth the paper it’s written on.
There are a variety of ways that the administration and Emory community could improve student awareness and engagement with political issues. For instance, integrating current events into first-year seminars in the same way that evidence is integrated into evidence-focused seminars could be effective. This would not only make course material highly approachable for freshmen but it would also be wonderfully conducive to the kind of change-oriented thinking that we need to foster. Professors could use current news to explain concepts relevant to class content, and the University could introduce an optional “global consciousness” class for freshmen that would introduce students to major global issues and the ways academic knowledge could be deployed against them.
Furthermore, the University could more effectively publicize the fact that it has guaranteed access to publications like The New York Times for all students. If nothing else, the University should establish a task force to explore all methods of increasing political awareness. Anything that moves the needle toward greater consciousness on campus should be celebrated.
However, no one action will be able to bring about all of the change that we need, but actively facing our deficiencies instead of turning our backs to them will go a long way towards a goal we can all get behind. A student body that impacts change is more than mere window dressing for applicants and donors.
Students, if Emory’s administration fails to address the challenge of living up to its prideful self-description, then we must face the challenge ourselves. Take it upon yourself to be informed, to consider the significance of what you learn and to urge others to do the same.
Gian Luigi Zaninelli (23C) is from Hattiesburg, Miss.