Break Out of the Bubble

Spring Break is over, and it is now time to transition back to Hamilton’s lovely weather. Meanwhile, Putin’s forces have stormed the last Ukrainian military base on the Crimean Peninsula; Venezuela is still undergoing hyperinflation, unfettered corruption and violent protests; and Turkey shot down a Syrian warplane that was flying a tiny bit too close to the border.

But it is Monday. Between Spring Break recovery, March Madness, exams, dorm reunions and job-hunting, I just don’t have time to save the world. Furthermore, what can I really do as a student? I am just your average Colgate senior, trying to finish my thesis and stay warm.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to hear Secretary of State John Kerry, along with many other prominent political figures, speak about these same “big issues” at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference. Nearly all of these leaders conveyed a common message: individual commitment to a cause, whatever it is, is essential in achieving tangible and sustainable progress for your cause. The skeptics among us – and I was one of them – will say that students have no power, mainly because of our status as “students.” I was one of the 2,400 students gathered from around the country. Even in a conference with over 14,000 attendees, I could clearly see the weight students can have on real issues in the “real world.”

This mystic and somewhat frightening concept of the after-world (that is, after Colgate) was so deeply rooted in my imagination that I simply forgot that I could have any importance in contemporary debates. I was stuck in the Colgate Bubble. The Bubble is a double-edged sword because not only does it blind us to what is happening outside of our campus as students, but also in the long run as functioning adults, it can keep us disconnected from the larger issues that the world faces in its future.

A quote, attributed to Gandhi, says that “Your beliefs become your thoughts, your thoughts become your words, your words become your actions, your actions become your habits, your habits become your values, your values become your destiny.” At Colgate, I have been thinking a lot (a lot) and I have articulated these thoughts via papers and presentations. Sometimes I have turned these words into actions. Unfortunately, I have not been able to expand these actions outside the Bubble as well as I could have. I fear that not turning these actions into habits will translate into an even greater apathy in the real world.

At Colgate, we have the chance to participate in numerous organizations and be involved in many projects and causes. These organizations bring amazing speakers and organize brown bags and events that make Colgate a better place on a daily basis. I am not naive enough to believe that we can “pop” the Colgate bubble – it is after all part of the experience – but I do believe that we can train ourselves to turn these actions into habits that will stick with us for our great journey in the real world. It is up to us as individuals.

I have two pieces of advice to the reader who will be back at Colgate next fall: first, attend at least one conference. I can guarantee you that you will find an annual convention for pretty much anything, so make your way there and bring back some valuable insights – and maybe even a speaker – for your fellow students, which leads me to my second recommendation.

If you are not able to travel but still desire to inspire change, just remember that there is plenty you can do from campus. Organize your own event. Sounds overwhelming? You are not alone, I promise. I learned the following rule of thumb at the AIPAC conference (from a Colgate grad nonetheless): chances are that about 1 percent of students will care about the same issue as you, whatever it is. Assuming that there are around 2800 students enrolled at Colgate, there are about 28 people that would be willing to get together and at least talk about your issue. And remember, words become actions. So if you are upset about the lack of coverage of the Venezuelan riots at Colgate, keep the faith, find the other 27 students that share your interests and organize a brown bag. If you are upset about the nuclear situation with Iran, become knowledgeable on the issue and be politically active with your elected officials by communicating with their regional offices. Trust me, it is as easy as it sounds.

“Bursting the Bubble” is not a viable solution to the lack of student engagement in current political affairs. We cannot move our campus to Washington, D.C. Rather, I recommend going to off-campus events and finding ways to bring their insights back to campus (speakers, new clubs, petitions). When I returned from the AIPAC conference last year, my friends and I began meeting weekly and now we have a sustainable and active group in the Israeli Culture Club. It was great to also see the same done with the students who returned from Geneva this semester when they formed the International Relations Council.

To conclude, there are many issues facing the world today, and there always will be. Without the initiative of proactive citizens, these problems will never go away and will continue to haunt our societies and consciences. I ask that all of you reading this who stuck with me this long, whatever your background and whatever it is that you do, begin taking those steps to expand and expose our Bubble to the “real” world.

Contact Albert Naim at [email protected].