Letter to the Editor

I read last week’s announcement of Tom Zoelner’s talk – “Zoellner ’91 hopes to shake Lawrence out of apathy” – with certain dismay and distinct confusion. Has Lawrence become an apathetic campus? I experienced my four years at Lawrence as the most intense period of political activism and intellectual debate of my adult life.
While the campus we arrived at in the fall of 1999 was admittedly a bit sleepy, the events of the early 2000s, the concerted efforts of my classmates and the intellectual tools provided by an outstanding faculty combined to quickly transform Lawrence. During college, I watched myself and my colleagues find our voices as deeply critical and engaged citizens. The Lawrentians I knew best gave little, if any, attention to “what other people thought,” and I can’t say that we wasted any time cultivating “a palatable style.”
Finding little in the way of political activism upon our arrival, students of various progressive and radical political leanings joined to form the Students for Leftist Action, a name that we chose specifically to emphasize what we saw as three distinctly important requirements for positive social change: intellectual reflection and study, unity among the left and concrete action. Soon after, the College Democrats and College Republicans reactivated their organizations, and the Objectivist Club formed, demonstrating the complete range of political ideologies present among the student body.
During my senior year, my fellow students and I voiced our opposition to the war in Iraq together with the Fox Valley Peace Coalition, picketing on College Avenue, even as drivers hollered insults like “traitor” and “terrorist.” In collaboration with members of the Lawrence faculty, we staged a presentation of Aristophanes’ play “Lysistrata,” unleashing a controversy about whether professors should be allowed to participate in explicitly political campus events. We held public debates about the impending invasion with those members of the campus community who did not share our views.
It was also during our time at Lawrence that the issue of campus sustainability was first raised, as groups like Greenfire and the McCarthy House Cooperative presented the administration with their desires for the then-unnamed Hiett Hall and Warch Campus Center to serve as examples of sustainable building practices. These groups also successfully pushed for the incorporation of Fair Trade, organic coffee at the campus coffeehouse and organic, local food at Downer Commons. Behind all these actions was an earnest desire to apply what we had learned in the classroom in order to advance social justice and improve our community.
To draw again on Mr. Zoellner’s words, the Lawrence that I attended did empower “students to speak out and initiate change” and in no way nurtured a “a culture of indifference.” Indeed, while the radicalism I espoused at Lawrence has since been tempered by years of graduate training – displaced by both a greater sense of purely intellectual curiosity and of political pragmatism – the changes my colleagues and I initiated at Lawrence by our efforts remain among the greatest rewards of my adult life.
-Gustavo Setrini ’03