Shouting at Shadows

By Alissa Kruidenier

Students of Reims, you failed to come together to form a general assembly regarding the proposed changes by the administration and the dismissal of Olivier Ruchet. Your abstentions act as a parallel to the actions of the voters across my country that recently refused to vote for anyone in this election, those non-participants who social scientists across generations have had nightmares about. Perhaps I would not be sitting here, incredulous, infuriated yet not unsurprised, if this pattern of apathy and blatant privileged disregard were not a hallmark of our campus. It is to you who have not spoken yet clearly do not care that I address this message, this challenge of campus discourse, because you have contributed nothing.

You hide behind broad, sweeping cries of “we’re allowed to disagree!” without exercising anything close to that right. You sit in silence, waiting out the storm of opinion, because apathy will always be the drug of democracy. I have faced an election where my country could not converse with one another, I have faced an environment where too many people stayed home. So speak up, right now and without any delay, because I am sick of shouting at the shadows over the internet.

I am exhausted at realizing that a minimum of students showed up to this general assembly, preferring to ‘like’ on Facebook without actually contributing anything to the discourse. I do not fear your opinion and I do not fear opposition, but by being silent you implicitly detract from the very process we are meant to stand for. If you would like to prove me wrong, Sciences Po Reims student body, it is time to fulfill the promise of political involvement that you espouse without embodying. Challenge me, please, or your actions become destructive to the public discourse. It is time to stop this absurd crying out that the statement of strong, dearly held ideas attempts to obscure the freedom of speech of others, because the only ones who aren’t speaking substantively are each of you.

You, a student body who I have seen go through three generations, have failed without exception whenever it came time to speak out and make a difference. When it came time during my first year of Sciences Po, to vote in elections, barely one half of the student population could be bothered to turn out, and only eleven or so of my peers could be bothered to form a BDE list which would unilaterally control student affairs. When the administration held an informational session on the sexual assault of a student last January, almost a year ago now, the auditorium was barely a quarter full – perhaps Jacquet should have counted the hundreds of shallow ‘likes’ on Facebook posts instead.

Are these our future politicians, our future leaders of the world? I sincerely hope not.

If you feel offended at that, good. You should be. You should be offended that a young American girl stands in the halls of supposed French excellence and is looking down upon the apathy of its student body. When the going gets hard, when the power says ‘no,’ you don’t give up and just write an essay on Hannah Arendt instead of applying her ideas of revolution.

You do not sit there and spit back Machiavelli, forgetting that the imposition of power comes only with the complicit attitudes of the public. Who are we to claim the mantle of the lion and the fox from a man who wrote in exile, expressing a pamphlet of opinion that saved him and built an empire? We’re no one. Instead we have some well-intentioned and strong protesting, combined with a quick burnout and even quicker normalization of the issues behind Mr. Ruchet’s dismissal. Because even when the symbol of the campus program is taken away, even when we are threatened with a change of program and curriculum, it is not enough to galvanize the student body.

Perhaps this is because the majority of you agree with the changes and finds no fault in them. Why have I not heard your voice? Where is your pamphlet? Why do you deny me the right to an honest, free-spirited, ideological opposition? Perhaps you have none, but regardless, your inaction has undermined each of us who believed we had the full force of a powerful student body, supposedly set to change and better the world, behind us.

Some of you may read this and wonder why I do not say “We,” why I do not throw myself into this condemnation of the student body. I, with many others like me, voted for my bureaus. I, like a handful of my fellow students, picked up the microphone and questioned the administration when I felt it was oversimplifying the sexual assault of students. I, and so many others in both my year and beyond, signed and wrote and argued in every way we could to support Oliver Ruchet. Yet we too have made mistakes, in not speaking out thoroughly against apathy in the past. Nothing can undo this, but for that reason I seek to reach each of you on campus, hoping you will learn from our oversights.

What we need now is you, the whole rest of you, you who feel but do not express, to add their voice. I need to hear you in all your opinions and oppositions – and please, do it off of Facebook commenting, where a mixture of grandeur and trendy sound bites combine to sell our opinions in the market of being ‘liked,’ trading discourse for grandstanding.

We cannot be strong without you; we cannot hold general assemblies without you. I hope this offends you. I hope this makes you angry, frustrated, and desperate to defend your choices, poke holes in my argument, and say something in response. I hope you sit down and write back to me, in well-reasoned and well-intentioned disagreement, and I hope you publish your thoughts. In fact, there is nothing more I would like than having an equally opinionated article be more popular than this one. Give a voice to the shadows, if you would, or instead lose the promise of what I thought this student body has the power to stand for.

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