Student apathy and selfishness in midst of crisis is disheartening

    I’m still scratching my head after the events that transpired last week in the wake of the most damaging natural catastrophe, aside from the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, that I’ve ever been a part of. And it’s not because the fires ripped through over 750,000 acres in Southern California or that thousands of homes were destroyed in the process ‹ it was the reaction to the fire and the disarray that followed that keeps me puzzled.

    Just like the rest of my neighborhood and many more, I woke up on Oct. 26 to a cloud of steel wool spanning the entire sky’s ceiling. Everything in the horizon was pink and thick with ash. The driveway, the cars and the patio were all caked in black and it reeked like campfire. Without watching television, I had no idea what caused this Doomsday condition or how much of the city was screwed as a result, but just by standing outside, you could tell things weren’t right.

    By the time the local news briefed me on the severity and ultra-close proximity of the fire, I was already phoning Vegas for the over-under line on the number of jerks who would gripe to me about the Fox and CBS channels showing fire coverage instead of football. Within moments, I was contacted by a number of acquaintances irate about the fact they weren’t watching the Broncos-Ravens game.

    I mention this incident and a number of others where the local fires were seen as a mere factor in a person’s day rather than the larger issue at hand. It was disheartening to see my peers just completely disconnected to the trauma swirling in their own backyard, viewing the fire as an inconvenience or, with the subsequent school closures, as advantageous.

    While I think this was a conscious assessment on the part of many of my peers and myself at times, I think there has to be a reason why relief projects were filled with San Diego volunteers that included the usual bunch of involved UCSD students, but the same apathy exhibited so frequently by our student body on campus issues carried over to the recent fires, as well.

    Perhaps it was that simple ‹ Students who exhibit little involvement on campus were just apathetic across the board. These individuals are too absorbed in their Counterstrike, weekend party plans or O-chem to give a hoot about civic responsibility or the sense of community. I’ve heard, and often accepted, the argument that these individuals just don’t care about the UCSD community ‹ that the university has not made an effort to entice the undergraduate for support. I buy that for a number of factors: low student election turnout, low attendance to sporting events involving our nationally ranked Triton teams, the abysmal alumni giving rate (ranked 191 out of 248 national universities when we boast a top-40 overall ranking), the UC study stating UCSD has the unhappiest undergraduates in the system and the absolute disgust I see in people’s eyes when I pass my peers on Library Walk to class (if, of course, they actually do look up long enough for me to see their eyes).

    This is a result of the “”tradition of no tradition”” at UCSD, as then-Chancellor Robert C. Dynes put it in his 2002 state of the campus address. While this mantra may be the appropriate mindset for an institution working toward innovation and imagination and so forth, it’s horrible for teenagers looking for familiarity or camaraderie to offset the loneliness they inevitably incur the first year. Disillusion them then, and it gets increasingly harder to win undergraduates back with time.

    So if these students are unable to connect with their university, why did they, by and large, not care? Did they hate UCSD so much that they would rather sit at home while their fellow Tritons in Scripps Ranch and Tierrasanta saw their homes burned to a crisp? Again, I am well aware of the outpouring of aid and service that came from the UCSD campus, but participants of these programs are the same faces we see carrying the campus community every day ‹ student orgs, members of the A.S. Council and even (gulp) the Greeks. But it’s disappointing when I couldn’t avoid hearing about how every New Yorker pitched to get people back on their feet after 9/11 or how people ‹ bums and stockbrokers alike ‹ worked together to get out of trapped subway and elevator cars. Do New Yorkers innately have lions’ hearts, or was it OK for an acquaintance of mine to ask me if the damp weather on Oct. 28 was going to “”screw us”” out of another day off because it improved firefighting conditions?

    Nobody’s complaining about a day or three off. I tried to make the best of a horrible situation by trying to relax over the span, but it’s a bit outrageous to think you’re getting screwed when headway is being made in combating a fire that killed more than a dozen and leveled thousands of homes.

    Many like myself decided to lend a helping hand in the situation ‹ when I called the Red Cross, volunteer orientations were booked solid until Nov. 3, a sign that many in the community were concerned ‹ so some colleagues and I went to Mira Mesa High School to load trucks with food and ice. Besides the site coordinator being an egomaniac and closet date rapist, the fact that that I puked while dumping out coolers full of spoiled tuna sandwiches, and being accosted by obnoxious Red Bull cheerleaders who, I suppose, wanted everyone to know what the official energy drink of Firestorm 2003 was, I felt proud that I was contributing in some capacity.

    For wanting to include things like civic leadership as an admissions factor in comprehensive review, why hasn’t a community service requirement been implemented on a large scale at University of California as it is at many East Coast institutions. If we’re to be accepted at this prestigious university based on things outside of immediate academic qualifications, why can’t we be assessed by the same token? Also, requiring students to become civic minded for a period of time, albeit small, may encourage them to look beyond their own individual interests and to be desirous of a community they can take pride in. Perhaps we’d see a rise in involvement in the student body if this was a graduation requirement, and maybe the attitudes of indifference among our peers would not be so abundant.

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