Why Apathy is Easier

By Alex Edel

If anyone has ventured down to the CFA recently, they will see a bizarre looking sculpture perched on top of the hill by the pond. With its door open, one can look inside Vito Acconci’s “Way Station,” which had been previously displayed outside of Bihall starting in 1983. The piece was open to the public so that viewers could interact with the letters and cards that line the back wall of the piece. When it was first installed, the piece caused a great deal of controversy both due to the fact it was inconveniently placed in students’ paths, but also because many students saw it as an ugly box obstructing the view to the Adirondack mountains. For a year and a half, students found ways to deface the work and debated the artistic value of the piece. In May of 1985, students torched it, leading the college to remove it from campus.

Right now at the Middlebury College Museum of Arts, there is an exhibit dedicated to the newly reinstalled structure. Included in the show are several issues of our very own Campus, including op-eds, news stories and editorials voicing various opinions surrounding the installation. This exhibition, as well as the work itself, paints a great picture of a time when a wide swath of students actively debated something unique to Middlebury’s campus. But today the installation, which has been reinstated as a public work, sits peacefully hidden away from every day notice. The installation that had originally caused active interaction and discontent has been transformed into a history lesson on the good old days of rebellion and activism.

While I am not advocating for the defacement of public works, I would argue that the installation should have been placed in a high visibility location on campus, instead of in a spot rarely visited by the students. It is hard for us to react to an installation with which we have little interaction.

In this day and age, when Google chooses articles for us based on our own interests and public relations are such an everyday concern for the college, it is natural for us to become complacent. Administrators and faculty discourage activism, as any one event can now be seen on the Internet by thousands of people across the world, as was the case with the “9/11 incident.” This rapid exchange of information is scary for anyone in PR for the College. It is this attitude of keeping the campus “clean” and devoid of any controversy that encourages students to become indifferent and, quite frankly, disinterested in anything outside of our own little comfortable worlds.

When issues and public works such as “Way Station” are hidden from our view, how are we supposed to care and form opinions about it? When there are a few extremely active groups on campus, why should we care when they can for us? And if most activism results in small changes, rather than sweeping ones, why even bother trying to find a cause worth fighting for in the first place?

Yes, the path of apathy is by far the easiest road to take. It is much simpler to think about classes and fall into the grind of college life than to actually stop to question your surroundings or, at least, to talk about controversial, albeit difficult issues with your peers. This more interesting path is messy, complicated and frustrating. But isn’t that the point?  Contemplation and activism on campus should be encouraged by all of us – students, faculty and administrators. Part of going to college in the first place is to learn how to make change in the world, not just through the classes we take, but the way we learn to grapple and deal with complex issues.

Middlebury makes apathy too easy. It is too easy to just take four classes and an extracurricular, and get lost in the day-to-day humdrum of life. It seems exhausting to be actively engaged, to really truly deeply care about an issue, so we learn to sit back and just let life happen.

This is no way to learn. Our generation is already way too apathetic and blasé. Middlebury should encourage us to grapple with issues and to learn how to be active members of a community in a constructive manner that promotes change.  So put the “Way Station” work back where it once was. Encourage us to interact with it and see if people can actually muster the strength to react, whether in a negative or positive way. Let’s talk about issues we care about with our fellow students. Let’s step outside our comfort zones and learn to act upon our convictions.