Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would be appalled at the political apathy of today's college students, a speaker bemoaned to an audience of six people Thursday at a UC Irvine symposium honoring the late civil rights leader's 66th birthday.
"If students are suffering from this serious illness of apathy, then they're going to have to suffer the consequences," said Eugene Wheeler, president of the 100 Black Men of Orange County, who spoke at the afternoon session. "If the people are less involved . . . the government's going to run them. When I went to school . . . activism was a part of life. It wasn't an option. Survival required it."
Organizers say this week's torrential rain chased away a lot of potential attendees from the 11th annual celebration. For the past two years, about 100 people have marched from a nearby park to the school, even braving the rain in 1993. This year, crowd gatherers, such as Thursday's scheduled outdoors gospel choir performance, had to be canceled. But Wednesday's opening ceremony, which took place after classes ended, attracted a good crowd, said Corina Espinoza, director of the school's Cross Cultural Center.
Today, a march will start at 10:30 a.m. at Mason Park, at Culver Drive and University Avenue, and end at the campus student center.
Despite flyers posted around campus, several students on Thursday said they did not know about the three-day conference.
"It's hard enough keeping up with my own life," said sophomore Susan Ha, who said she would not have attended the talk even if she had known about it. "We've never had to deal with racism the way they had to. It's kind of unreal to us."
Conference organizers agreed that students today have grown up in a different social climate.
"The message they've been getting is, get a job and take care of yourself, rather than become more globally and more socially responsible," Espinoza said.
Sophomore Clifford Mosley, the only student who attended Wheeler's talk, said that with rising student "fees and costs, students just can't afford to stay in school and do other things like (activism). Their main goal is to graduate."
But, said Mosley, who cut a calculus class to hear the speech, "My folks' generation have taken us through 50 yards of a 100-yard (race. King) is standing at the end of the goal line saying, 'Just because you walked 50 yards doesn't mean you have to stop.' "
When the issues hit close to home, students do get involved, said freshman Daniel Perez. During last year's Proposition 187 debate, he took to the streets to pass out flyers and gave people rides to the voting polls. Perez said he would have gone to the conference if he had known about it, because King's philosophy of social change through nonviolence guided his activism.
"In the 187 project, a lot of people wanted to go into full-blown riot," Perez said. "But also a lot of people wanted to act peacefully so they can act with reason and not impulse. It's reason that gets things done."