Burning up the Apathy

I came to Boston College because of one simple reason: the Jesuit message of ”setting the world aflame” spoke to me. On Admitted Eagle Day, Gasson’s enchanting beauty may have influenced my decision to come here, but what truly captured my imagination was the prospect of becoming a BC student who would change the world. On the plane ride back to my quiet, suburban hometown, all I could think about was the radical quest for justice I was destined to embark on as an Eagle.

Flash-forward three months and there I was, first semester freshman year living the BC dream—tailgating, sneaking into Mod parties, and, of course, trying to set the world aflame by volunteering with 4Boston. Everything was going according to plan. I had a match in my hand and the insatiable Ignatian drive for justice.

Something was off, though. I felt … complacent. Sure, it was nice to tutor socioeconomically disadvantaged kids every week, and to see their faces light up when I’d successfully help them through a difficult math problem, but it felt like I was just striking at flint. All spark, no flame. My volunteering didn’t change the oppressive societal structure that kept these kids in poverty, and realizing this infected me with a dangerous apathy that made me want to forget all about Jesuit values and a radically just world.

Then Ferguson happened. I was sitting in Mac the day after the verdict, when a long line of angry BC students streamed in, chanting loudly and waving handheld signs. Admittedly, I was ignorant of what happened in Ferguson. Michael Brown was just a random name to me. In my mind, America was a post-racial country. The need to protest racism was a relic of the 60s, right? All of this anger seemed unjustified and unproductive. It didn’t fit in my worldview of an America free from its racist past.

That night as I lay in bed, I couldn’t stop thinking about the intense energy at the protest. What if the speakers were right? What if white supremacy is a cancer still festering in America’s bones? Their protest had punctured a hole in my blissful ignorance, and now I was forced to face the truth. The student activists in Mac had courageously stood up for what they believed in and set me aflame with their passion for justice. Through their bravery, they shared their fire with me.

I joined groups like Climate Justice BC and Eradicate BC Racism soon after, inspired to become an activist. I befriended some of the most thoughtful, intelligent, and passionate students I’ve ever met in these clubs and was inspired by their drive to work for a better world. My complacency was transformed into a continual urge to act. I realized that activism was the missing piece in my BC journey to set the world aflame.

Yet, I was ashamed to talk about my discovery with my friends. I was worried it would make them uncomfortable, that I would be ostracized as a radical. I was comfortable marching around campus protesting, but not talking about that same protest in my common room or at Late Night.

Donald Trump’s victory shattered this fear. With promises of policies that will destroy the earth and oppress the most vulnerable among us, activism is no longer a choice: it is a responsibility. When I came back to campus in January after a semester abroad, I saw that many of my friends who I would not expect were out in the streets protesting and actively organizing. It turns out they were activists all along. I had been too cynical before, thinking activism was some special task only a select few people would ever want to do. I had forgotten my own journey from apathy to action.

Despite the fear and anger Trump’s tyrannical toupee can provoke, activism provides a hope for the future that can’t be stamped out by executive orders. Now more than ever, setting the world aflame means hitting the streets as well as serving in a soup kitchen, because volunteering won’t stop deportations. Volunteering won’t stop climate change. Only active organizing will reverse disastrous policies and begin to build the just world Jesuit values envision. We’ve all got the fire inside of us. The only question is, how will you spread it?

Featured Image by Zoe Fanning / Heights Editor