Superficial Diversity? Why Political Activism is Rare in the US

Ferran Masip-Valls
Ferran Masip-Valls

This post comes from our sister blog, Comite de Estudiantes (the Spanish version of the Student Union).  Columbia University student Ferran Masip-Valls talks about why there seems to be less activism on U.S. campus (which, by the way, is considered a relatively politically active school by American standards) than at his school back home.

For our Spanish-speaking readers, you can read the original text in italics. The rest of us can read the English translations.

At Columbia University, where I’ve been studying this past year, the truth is that politics is not something you breathe in the air. However, I look back at the Spanish university where I studied before, and the feeling was quite different.

En Columbia University, donde he estado estudiando este último año, la verdad es que la política no es algo que se respire en el aire. En cambio, miro atrás, hacia las universidades españolas donde estudié antes, y la sensación resultaba bien distinta.

Columbia University.  Creative Commons photo by Flickr user Barbara (Jorbasa)
Columbia University. Creative Commons photo by Flickr user Barbara (Jorbasa)

Somehow I get the feeling (which may well be completely wrong, and why I call it just a “feeling”) that this is the result largely of the system itself. Columbia University costs several years’ salary to attend, and students end up with tens of thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands, of dollars of debt after their studies.

In Spain, public education is relatively affordable, so virtually anyone can study – although that is changing slightly. Thus, class differences, or the representation of social strata, is quite different in the American and Spanish university environments.

De algún modo, me da la sensación (que puede bien ser completamente errónea; y por ello lo llamo tan solo “sensación”) de que eso es fruto, en gran parte, del sistema en sí mismo. Columbia, universidad que cuesta diversos años de sueldo por curso, donde los estudiantes contraen decenas, a veces centenares de miles de dólares de deuda por un par o tres o cuatro años estudiados. España, donde la educación es eminentemente pública y relativamente asequible. En otras palabras, donde virtualmente cualquiera puede estudiar – aunque la situación está cambiando ligeramente. Por ello, la diferencia de clases, o la representación de estratos sociales, es bien distinta en cada uno de estos contextos.

Students wearing Columbia University sweatshirts.  Creative Commons photo by Flickr user airsoenxen
Students wearing Columbia University sweatshirts. Creative Commons photo by Flickr user airsoenxen

It is this diversity of wealth and social class that is represented in Spanish universities, which in my opinion gives way to a more highly politicized intellectual mass compared to what I have noticed between the mean here in Columbia University (because, all in all, diversity here is just a question of majorities and minorities) .

Es esa diversidad, esa riqueza poblacional que queda representada en España, la que a mi parecer da paso y pasto a una masa intelectual altamente politizada – en comparación con lo que he apreciado entre la media (porque, como siempre, hay de todo en todas partes, se trata tan solo de mayorías y minorías) acá en Columbia University.

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