The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

W&L’s lack of student protests for Gaza demonstrates our culture of apathy

As tensions skyrocket on college campuses around the country, W&L remains quiet
Savannah Kimble ’18

Before coming for Admitted Students Day, I knew very little about Washington and Lee University. I was unconvinced that these 430 acres in Lexington, Virginia were where I wanted to spend the next four years of my life. The Zoom admissions tours were uninspiring and my Johnson weekend was a haze of anxiety, so when I came to admitted students day with my parents I had almost no expectations. But, as my roommates and I say when we look back on our admitted students days, Washington and Lee sure knows how to woo you.

Maybe it was Matthew Loar’s fellowship session, the beautiful summer-during-spring weather, or the catering that drew us in. But if I had to pick one thing from admitted students day that convinced me to come here, I would say it was the people.

We have all heard this pitch, so I won’t belabor the point. But, despite being an independent and having been thrust into a community so wildly different from my home, I made amazing friends here. And even beyond those friends, the campus community is something special; smiles while walking around, stopping for a quick chat, banter in classes with people you have just met, and so on.

But today, at the beginning of May, halfway through Spring Term, with sunny weather and refreshed mental headspaces from a grueling Winter Term, our campus attitude feels for the first time…wrong.

Across the country, protests are breaking out on campuses, making national headlines and powerful statements about the conflict in Gaza. According to the New York Times, over 2,800 students and faculty have been arrested on 63 different campuses, most of whom were protesting Israel’s actions in Gaza and calling on their university to divest from companies with ties to Israel.

I went home over break to Connecticut and watched the growing protests at Yale. I watched the Columbia arrests on the news. I visited my two friends at New York University and saw the protesters from across the street. That night, they were arrested.

I came back to school, to the small 430 acres I decided to call home nearly two years ago, and there is…nothing.

In my mind, there are three reasons for this. One, we are a school of 1,800 students. Any vigil, sit-down, or protest we could organize would pale in comparison to other universities even if we manage to get the same percent engagement.

Two, we are a small school in numbers and a small school on the national stage. Any student who studied campus protests during Vietnam or national protests like the Civil Rights Movement knows that protests only work if they make headlines. Good or bad, the press is the success of any movement. Our middle-of-nowhere small liberal- arts college could never make a splash like Yale, Columbia, the UT schools, or NYU.

Three, and this is the kicker, no one cares. Of course, some people care. I care, I know people who care, I know there are students for whom this issue is an immensely personal one. But on the whole, on an aggregated scale, our student body is apathetic.

We always have been, because, come on, it’s Spring Term! It is supposed to be fun! A whole month-long semester to party and laugh, live out the good ol’ college years!

It turns out, the positive and deeply kind Washington and Lee attitude that ‘wooed’ me on my Admitted Students Day is fueled, at least in part, by apathy to the world beyond our Lexington bubble.

I have been faced with this apathy before. Apathy towards student elections, the Honor System, or the Executive Committee. Or apathy towards issues and college life in general. As the co-editor of the opinions section, finding students who care enough about a topic to want to write is challenging, especially in Spring Term. (In this edition, every article in the opinions section is written by one of my roommates after some light (heavy) begging and perhaps a little bribing. They would like everyone to know they are not journalism majors or writers.)

But the apathy feels different now. It is not just disheartening anymore—it is tone-deaf. According to the New York Times, arrests were made and encampments cleared on Friday at MIT and UPenn. Here, we had the Pi Beta Phi formal.

I don’t believe our community character, the bubbly Washington and Lee personality, is dependent on ignoring everything else going on in the world. Caring about what is happening on other campuses and what is happening across the world.

In fact, I think ‘caring’ is the most Washington and Lee attitude I can come up with. We are a caring community. We are (hopefully) being taught to think beyond our context and have time and the passion to discuss even what does not affect us directly.

There is a stereotype that Southern hospitality is surface-level kindness. I hope that our campus compassion isn’t surface-level, but right now, it appears that it is.

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  • J

    John PhilipMay 15, 2024 at 10:00 am

    Breaking News: A School with a large percentage of Jewish students doesn’t want to have anti-Isreal protests. In other news, a sorority had a formal.

    Maybe there aren’t any protests at this school because most students are smart enough to realize how pointless and needlessly dangerous they are.

  • K

    Kamron M. Spivey, '24May 14, 2024 at 9:55 pm

    I care about the conflict. That why I wrote two opinions on it for The Spectator. You should check them out. But don’t mistake the lack of protests as a lack of care. W&L is filled with sensible students who realize that shouting with a sign will achieve far less than compasionate discussions with their peers. I am glad we get to have a graduation and continue our classes. I’m also glad that all our students and faculty are welcome on campus.

  • J

    JEFFREY DUKE SOUTHMAYDMay 14, 2024 at 5:16 pm

    W&L students are too focused to waste time on misdirected and meaningless protest.

    • A

      anonymousMay 16, 2024 at 9:51 am

      I agree. However, this is in direct opposition to many of the posts you allow and support on your Facebook page. If you truly support the current student body, you should do that wholeheartedly. Some of the posts and comments allowed on your Facebook group are deplorable.

      Facebook group: “Washington and Lee-History and Tradition”

      • J

        JEFFREY DUKE SOUTHMAYDMay 22, 2024 at 4:08 pm

        “Washington and Lee-History and Tradition” doesn’t edit out legitimate opinion. You must be one of those typical liberals who think contrary opinions to yours should be banned or that you have some right to decide what is “deplorable” for everyone. Grow up.

    • A

      AnonymousMay 16, 2024 at 9:54 am

      Are the comments allowed on your Facebook group indicative of the values of the Southmayd Center for American Ideals?