I bet you are offended.
Offended that I would question the amount you care about such serious subjects.
Racism and sexism are both six-letter words. Words we react to when they are brought up. Powerful words that are only used in the most serious of circumstances and events.
Another six letter word: apathy.
Think about why you clicked on this article.
It was the title. Intentionally phrased to incite a reaction. Because reacting is something we have become very good at.
We are reactive, not proactive. We put forth effort after tragedies or traumatic events that require us to confront them. This culture of apathy isn’t just a Lehigh problem.
We talk about gun violence after a mass shooting, and then forget. We talk about sexual assault after a case like Brock Turner’s, and then forget. We talk about abuse after a prominent figure speaks out, and then forget.
The “thoughts and prayers” following the tragedies in Las Vegas and Puerto Rico will quickly become last week’s news.
Our country’s cycle of apathy is echoed right here at this university.
A hateful and racially-charged incident occurred at a registered fraternity party earlier this semester.
After the investigation concludes and reveals more details, our campus will react negatively, as if on cue. We will address what happened. We will denounce racism. We will say things like, “How could this happen on our campus?”
Discussion of campus-wide culture issues will arise. There will be conversation about being inclusive and accepting. There will be calls for action.
Then, we will forget. Until the next incident occurs.
Our generation has been criticized for not caring. Seventy percent of Americans call our generation selfish. They think we scroll on our phones, oblivious to what’s around us.
“Too lazy, self-absorbed and entitled,” they say.
I like to think this is not true. Well, not completely.
Gun violence, mental health, terminal disease, financial struggle, sexual assault, addiction, deportation, abuse. Any other serious topic you can think of — it affects someone at this university.
As students, we know these are real issues. We do care. We just don’t show it or act on it nearly enough until people need it most.
In our daily lives, we ignore that these issues exist. We only acknowledge them with widely-ignored campus discussions and poorly-attended philanthropic events that produce no tangible outcomes or change in our apathetic culture.
It doesn’t matter how many flyers, Facebook posts or Lehigh emails we read. The reality remains the same. Attending these types of events isn’t the “cool” thing to do.
For a school that fills basements until we can’t move, we sure leave a lot of empty seats at campus events, regardless of how good or moral the cause is. Showing we care about things of substance isn’t prioritized until something controversial or emotional happens.
A few weeks ago, students shared deeply personal stories at the Dear World event at Lehigh. The stories were emotional, empowering and thought-provoking. We looked at the photos, listened to the stories and reacted.
We literally had to view images of people’s experiences, struggles and vulnerabilities to finally acknowledge them and start a conversation.
We got lucky. Most events aren’t nearly as planned or uplifting as Dear World. And sadly, usually only tragedies elicit a response.
Why does it take a cancer death in the Lehigh community for students to attend Relay for Life?
Why does it take the Umoja incident for people to speak out against racial discrimination?
We only talk about mental health after we find out a friend has been diagnosed. We only discuss safety after student hospitalizations. We only think mindfully about sexual identities after finding out a classmate is transgender.
Why do we decide to show we care after it’s too late?
I’m not writing this to tell you I care more than you do. I’m writing this because I’m no different.
In one week, our campus is hosting Dance Marathon.
I’ll admit it. I’ll be at the Hunt horse race, paying a ridiculous amount of money to drink in the middle of a field in New Jersey where I probably won’t see a single horse. I won’t be attending the fun, activity-filled event that fundraises for our local Children’s Miracle Network Hospital.
Nobody in my family has a child with a terminal illness. I don’t have a personal relationship to the cause. It’s not that I don’t care, it’s that there is nothing pushing me to go with the more noble choice.
Apathy. I have it. Our campus has it. Our country has it.
So, what is the solution?
I’m not going to preach to you to get more involved on campus. I won’t try to persuade you to attend more campus events. It’s not my place to tell you to do something more meaningful than hanging out with friends at Molly’s.
The point of this isn’t to guilt you into caring more. You’re not required to attend every one of these events to be a good person. You don’t have to drastically change your life to be more compassionate.
But the lack of apathy ingrained in our campus isn’t going to change overnight. We’ve shown we will act only after we are given a reason to care.
Start the conversation. Get past base-level questions like, “How was your weekend?” answered with base-level answers like, “Great, how was yours?”
Ask a friend what matters to them. Ask what they are passionate about. Learn what they care about and why.
Because when we begin to find out what someone else cares about, we might start to care too.
Annie Henry, ’18 is an associate photo editor and reporter for The Brown and White. She can be reached at [email protected]