Students discuss youth apathy at “Fall Forum”

Christina Suttles

Members of the May 4 Task Force examined the state of modern activism and how political demonstrations have changed over the decades at a forum held in 204 of the Kent Student Center at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

Representatives from the Kent State Freethinkers, Students for a Sensible Drug Policy, the Kent State College Democrats and PRIDE! Kent participated in the panel.

Ashton Potter, co-chair of the May 4 Task Force, said the purpose of the forum was to bring both like-minded student organizations and organizations with opposing views together to form a possible alliance and work together in the future.

The evening kicked-off with a series of presentations that provided some historical insight into past and current state of freedom of speech in America.

Michael Klein, senior computer information systems major, presented information about the First Amendment. He said the government too often uses national security as an excuse to stifle free speech — and both Republicans and Democrats are equally to blame. The lines are often blurred when it comes to free speech, he added, before questioning what the government’s definition of “free” is.

“The government can regulate time, place and manner in which you can express yourself in assembly,” he said.

Panelists then debated bias in the media and said many news organizations are driven by consumerism and what the audience wants rather what they need — citing examples such a Fox News, MSNBC and CNN. The importance of fact-checking information with credible sources was a prominent theme throughout the meeting.

Although many in attendance voiced concerns that their generation is primarily silenced by apathy, Jessica Denton, co-chair for the May 4 Task Force, said the student involvement she sees all over the world is enough to assure her that young people are still compelled to actively seek social justice.

“You see things like the Arab Spring; you see things like Occupy [Wall Street],” she said. “People from Egypt were sending messages to people in Wisconsin … you see the connection.”

Amanda Paniagua, vice president of the Kent State Freethinkers, said she believes activism is so vital to today’s political climate because young people lack the perspective of, say, the Kent State Massacre of 1970. Advocacy organizations, she said, act as a reminder and tribute to such events.

“If students have to ask why the task force exists, that’s the most dangerous thing,” she said.

Brandon Stephens, vice president of the College Democrats and PRIDE! Kent, said his motivation toward activism has to do with his upbringing and the fact that he is not legally permitted to marry who he wants.

“I was raised in a middle class family, but my dad worked his ass off my entire life,” he said. “If you really want to make a difference you just have to get out there and do it, and I guess I’m just that kind of person.”

For Potter, being a female raised by a single mother — who can’t afford to pay college tuition — is reason enough to stay vigilant in advocacy, considering the odds may already be stacked against her in the current political climate.

Klein said he thinks one of the most effective means of persuading young people to become active for causes is by making passion mutual through solidarity.

“People don’t want to do your thing, they want to do their thing,” he said. “It just has to be everybody’s [thing].”

Denton adjourned the meeting with a simple saying intended to pack a punch:

“Think globally, act locally.”

Contact Christina Suttles at [email protected].