College students across the country react to war

Megan Angelo

There are days when the fear of nuclear warfare violently shifts our daily priorities, and there are days when an inadvertent glimpse of CNN is our only brief reminder of the danger we are told we are living in.

Part of what the Princeton Review does involves categorizing how often both of these types of days occur at college campuses across the country. Universities have long been characterized as hotspots of political activity, but the Review takes a closer look at the political awareness and party affiliations of American college students every year.

One set of the ratings released by the Review lists the most politically active colleges in America. Tommy Mann, a senior and former member of the student government at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, finds that the naming of his school to this list could not be more appropriate in light of current events.

“We’re seeing both sides here,” he said. “But the people whom are against the war speak louder.” Their volume is falling, however, as the students are coming together to display support for American troops. “It’s sort of a trend that students feel it is too late to start the protest,” Mann said, explaining that most students have put aside their original opinions of the war to unite in patriotism.

Constant activities related to the war are still going on at UNC, according to Mann, who said that other universities have complimented UNC for its keen political savvy.

The nearby University of Scranton received the opposite classification from the Review, but Student

body president Frank Salfi claimed that recent student behavior defies that stereotype. The Jesuit college’s “sense of community and mission” has been brought to light by the war in Iraq, he said, and all of the students have been extremely participant in campus prayer services.

“There are feelings against the war and for the war – it’s a pretty even mix,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a fair rating. The university has been speaking out about its feelings and devoting much of its time to educating the campus about the situation.”

Gerald Titus is the student body president at Washington and Lee University, ranked first on the Review’s list entitled “Students Most Nostalgic for Reagan” with the most Republican student population in the country.

Titus said that the timing of exams distracted many of the usually politically charged students, but that the war has still been a prominent theme of recent campus life. The university, which is located in Lexington, Va., hosted a town hall meeting in which students, faculty members and people of the surrounding community voiced their opinions about the war. The forum was hosted by a professional ethicist and took place before the war in Iraq officially began. “It really set the framework for discussion,” Titus said.

The Republican reputation of the school has been obviously validated during the past few weeks, according to Titus. “The conservative nature of the college leads us to be more comfortable with the decisions being made,” Titus explained, adding that a campus rally to support the troops is in the works. “You see strong support for the president – we all stand behind our leaders.”

On the campus of Boston’s Brandeis University, pro-war sentiments are not as common. Instead, the anti-war student coalition seems to be the most forceful presence on campus as well as the most organized.

“The day after the war started, 400 students and teachers walked out of their classrooms,” Jonathan Sclarsic, a student representative to Brandeis’s Board of Trustees, said.

Sclarsic reported that the anti-war group quickly put together several rallies and events. Though these activities have been popular among the diverse student body, Sclarsic also noted that “smaller” clusters of students have supported troops by handing out yellow ribbons.

The responses of Brandeis students have hardly been homogenous, according to Sclarsic. A large contingent of the student population is Jewish, and their interests have further complicated the issue. “A lot of the Jewish students are very concerned about how the war will affect Israel,” Brandeis said.

The Review named Brandeis as one of the colleges “Most Nostalgic for Bill Clinton” in the country, but Sclarsic is dubious of this label. Despite the obvious anti-war emotions at the university, he hesitated to equate the atmosphere on campus with a collective democratic Party affiliation. “We are a very liberal campus,” he admitted, “but I wouldn’t say democratic with a capital ‘D’.”

The most important impressions that students across the country are making, may be one of unpredictability. Sclarsic scoffed at the neat categorizations of the Review, saying, “Yeah, I participated in that survey. They stood outside our cafeteria and offered kids candy to fill out papers. It was the least scientific thing I’ve ever seen.” Perhaps even the most methodical study could not have calculated the reactions of a generation watching their own peers being swept away to war for the first time.