Op-Eds do not reflect the editorial opinion of The Daily Free Press. They are solely the opinion of the author(s).
Alvaro Mendoza is a junior in the Boston University College of Engineering.
A while back, I started to get into activism. I sat down, made a little progress and wanted to do more.
However, between school and my other responsibilities the next day, I couldn’t find the time to revisit my activism. After two weeks, my lack of progress made me feel guilty. So what did I do?
I gave up.
Throughout the years, this has become a recurring cycle. Every time I tried to involve myself in advocacy outside of school, school got in the way.
Why was activism so difficult, and why had I continued to fail? Was it just me, or was this a widespread problem?
In many ways, higher education is supposed to make activism easier. It brings people together and allows for the spread of ideas. It also provides students with the knowledge and resources to take on the problems society faces.
Despite these advantages, my experience as a student activist has shown me there are institutional barriers that make it harder for students to get involved. We lack the time and resources to involve ourselves extensively, if at all.
School was — and is — my priority. If I don’t dedicate enough time to my studies, I may fail, and all that hard-earned tuition money would be for nothing. If I don’t work on my activism, there are no consequences.
There were many moments where assignments would collect and hit me in what seemed like a perfect storm.
“I have a mechanics midterm tomorrow, thermodynamics midterm next week, two problems sets due this week, and my presentation and draft are due next week,” I thought to myself, “How am I going to get through this?”
I was frustrated, overwhelmed and stressed. I had lost my motivation to do my best and was instead focusing on surviving. And the thing I cared about the most — my activism and research — fell to the bottom of my priorities.
Moments such as these were a common occurrence. I don’t have a job, but for students who do, it only eats up more of their time — after all, paid work takes priority over activism. Students who balance work and school have already shown lower grade point averages and levels of study time.
Despite these barriers, students do technically have time to fit activism into their tight schedules.
However, the stress of school and work leaves us drained in our free time, with little to no desire to take on extra responsibilities. I hear it all the time:
“I just need this semester to be done.”
“I just want to pass and that’s it.”
“I hate this class.”
As students, we are left without the time or energy to care about what we are motivated by. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We could learn by helping our community.
I remember sitting down at my desk, finding areas and issues I wanted to advocate for.
I knew I wanted to help my school reach its sustainability goals, but I didn’t know anything about Boston University’s progress in its sustainable objectives — apart from some surface-level statistics they threw on their page to show they care about the environment.
16 percent waste reduction since 2006, according to Sustainability at BU.
The lack of transparency into BU’s operations stopped me from finding problems within the waste disposal system. Not only was there a lack of data, but there was also no information about the problems they were facing or the progress they were making.
The lack of data put more pressure on me, because it was now my responsibility to find the information I needed to then find a problem.
This obstacle didn’t stop me, because activism was actually a requirement for my class. For those that do not have an academic obligation to activism, the added difficulty of finding ways to get involved can prevent them from even starting.
My experience with activism made me realize students are not trusted enough with their time. Schools fill up students’ time with requirements, rather than allowing students to pursue what they want.
Universities need to prioritize civic engagement over traditional testing requirements. To do so, service learning needs to be intertwined with academic requirements as to not add to the amount of work we already face.
As a result, student activism will become a part of schoolwork — instead of an extracurricular — and we will be given a platform to dedicate ourselves to issues we care about.
The more exposure students have to civic engagement, the more likely they are to pursue it, take initiative and be responsible.
But there needs to be trust. Trust that providing the students with more academic freedom does not mean they will not be prepared for the future.