Bearing the burden of our activist past

CAMPUS ISSUES: Students need a strong understanding of Berkeley's history in order to incite meaningful change.

For students entering UC Berkeley for the first time this fall, the semester marks a new beginning — an opportunity to learn, transform and maybe reclaim the Axe.

Anything seems possible.

But incoming undergraduates and graduates alike should also be aware that though the university experience is marketed as an opportunity for intense personal development, students also have a responsibility to the communities they’re joining. We are obliged to engage in meaningful efforts to improve those communities.

These efforts, however, are often thwarted by the inevitable brevity of our time at UC Berkeley. Headway is made on many issues during the span of a student’s attendance of UC Berkeley, but without persistence beyond the standard four-year period, those efforts will not be continued in the future.

For example, students spent years fighting to establish a city district with a student supermajority. But since the student district was created in 2013, no student has run to fill the seat.

Even beyond remembering the actions of our predecessors, to succeed, we must remember the context surrounding those actions and the ways in which that context evolves across time.

After Occupy Cal, for instance, the campus administration opted to adopt a policy that limited violent confrontation with protesters.

More recent protests, such as Occupy Wheeler, have not adapted to this change, allowing the methods of iconic and successful movements to shape their protest without taking into consideration the changes implemented in more recent history. Though many expected Occupy Wheeler to cause clashes with the police and administration as they did during the Free Speech Movement and 2011’s Occupy Cal, as a result of new campus policy, no such confrontations ever occurred, and the Wheeler protest lasted only a week.

Without consciously seeking out a complete institutional memory — without striving to understand how all the individual pieces of the past fit together to create our modern, nuanced Berkeley — new generations of UC Berkeley students will simply repeat the actions of their predecessors. This campus is rich in a history of activism and challenging the status quo. But the student body’s inherent turnover rate and collective short-term memory create hurdles in our path.

Incoming students, you are now members of the UC community. You are Bears on our Berkeley campus and citizens of the city of Berkeley. Recognize that you have joined a long tradition of student activism aimed at strengthening all of these sectors. Discover what it is you’re passionate about — now — and fight for it.

Rising seniors, leave behind a strong legacy so that incoming students understand the mission you’re passing on to them.

One of the lessons everyone should learn at UC Berkeley — whether in the classroom or out — is that we cannot be apathetic bystanders in the social and political worlds we travel through. We must engage, and engage thoughtfully, learning from the past in order to innovate and improve the future.

Editorials represent the collective opinion of the Senior Editorial Board as written by the opinion editor.

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