Athletic supporters: 300. Anti-war activists: 30. On the face of it, that looks like the score at Duke University, where student activism isn't exactly setting the world (or the ROTC buildings) on fire. The first number is how many students are camping out in "Krzyzewskiville," the high-tech tent city for students in perpetual line to get tickets for Blue Devil men's basketball games. The smaller number is how many students camped out last week outside the Duke Chapel to protest plans to invade Iraq. It's probably an accurate reflection of the state of political activism on the Duke campus. But, both sides insist, it's not that simple.
Organizers claim that the purpose of the camp-out was not to attract a large number of protesters, but simply to publicize anti-war views and to get dialogue going on campus. With the exception of a few e-mails to student organizations, Duke Against the War in Iraq (the group responsible for the encampment) did not advertise the event ahead of time.
Despite the strange juxtaposition of encampments, neither the K-ville tenters nor the "peace tenters" felt it was a competition. "I thought the idea of tenting for peace was very clever," said sophomore K-ville tenter Adam Bonneau. "[Seeing the tents out of context] got people's attention and made them think." In general, K-ville tenters agreed that tenting for basketball tickets and having strong opinions on the war were not mutually exclusive.
Still, no one in K-ville asked permission to move his or her tent to the peace encampment for the night ...
The "peace tenters" spent a total of three days and two nights on the Chapel quad, and organizers consider the demonstration a success. "A number of us overheard people talking about [the encampment] around campus," said organizer and junior Dave Allen. "It provoked discussion and thought about the war, even if it was just momentary. Obviously, camping out on the quad isn't going to make a difference in the course of international affairs, but it at least made people stop and think."
When inspiring students just to think about an issue constitutes success, student activism doesn't seem to be much of an "active" process anymore. Yet perhaps this is the most we can expect from students today--a brief glance, a pause, a slight shift of opinion, a discussion. Such passive activism will undoubtedly continue until events hit close to home and students feel their own world being altered.