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Students not living up to political reputation

The Princeton Review ranked Mills College 16th in the “Most Politically Active” category and yet many students seem unaware of current events. The latest evidence: Cindy Sheehan’s arrest on Sept. 26.

Sheehan was one of hundreds of protesters who sat on the sidewalk along the north edge of the White House compound.

Police warned them three times that they were breaking the law by failing to move, according to the Associated Press, and then began making arrests. Sheehan was the first one taken into custody, according to the AP, for demonstrating without a permit.

If anyone expected this to galvanize the anti-war movement they may be disappointed: at Mills College, at least, few seemed to know that it had happened at all. There was no outcry on student-news. “Who?” many replied when asked how they felt about Sheehan’s arrest. After her circumstances were explained, the response was almost always, “Oh yeah, her!”

But why do so many students, at what is supposedly one of the most politically active campuses in the nation, seem unaware of current events?

“Not a lot of us watch the news on TV here,” said freshwoman Shelby Phillips, “and I don’t think anyone reads the paper.” She said that at home in Forest Ranch, upstate near Chico, she knew her news stations and watched the news frequently, but here at school that is not the case.

“People are absorbed in their own lives,” said junior Emily Wilheim. “And we’re college students . . . we get involved in our own lives: sleeping, eating, and class.” She added that living on campus “creates a barrier from the outside world.”

Commuting students seem to have more awareness of the world outside of Mills. Maya Menon, a junior, lived off-campus for a year before moving back into the dorms for her junior year.

“I felt like I was in the real world,” Menon said of living off-campus. She had a television in her apartment, frequently watched the news and would occasionally filch a neighbor’s newspaper if they did not pick it up.

But some students who are now commuters found themselves more politically aware when they were living on campus.

“When we’re sitting at dinner and discuss, people bring up issues and we can have debates and talk about it,” said junior Hai Tran, who spent two years in the dorms before moving off-campus this year. People talk in the dorms, she said, whereas living off-campus she felt like she was more in her “own bubble.” She said she didn’t even know the Katrina disaster was happening for several days.

Sophomore Patricia Teveris watches the news at home on the weekends and reads the newspaper in the library daily. She said that all but one of her friends are much less conscious than she is of current events, though international news holds more interest for her than domestic issues.

“They think it’s boring,” Teveris said. According to Teveris, her friends do not pay much attention to current events unless it’s something “very dramatic,” such as Massachusetts legalizing gay marriage – or celebrity news. “They buy a lot of magazines,” she said, citing People and Cosmopolitan as examples.

When asked why students didn’t seem to pay more attention to the news, junior Eleanor Chen-Ranstrom only shrugged and summed it up: “We live in a bubble.”