Activism at Tulane
By Caitlin Conley
Unigo Campus Rep at Tulane
When it comes to activism and community involvement Tulane reflects a larger New Orleans dichotomy. New Orleans is the home to Mardi Gras, the largest party in America, and Bourbon Street, perhaps the single most indulgent street in the country. At the same time the city is the center of the largest recovery effort in United States history and is full of community development and service activities. Some Tulane students find it easy to revel in the French Quarter and the leafy confines of the Uptown New Orleans area and others have founded highly effective community service projects. Most students fall somewhere in the middle.
The Tulane Green Club, a student group dedicated to educating students about environmental issues, has seen both ends of the Tulane spectrum.
“It's getting easier to get students involved,” said Green Club president Mara Saxer, “but Tulane still isn't a hotbed of activism.”
Saxer felt that Tulane students were “starting to wake up to environmentalism”. She found that her fellow students were generally educated about global warming and other environmentalist issues but were often uninterested in debate or discussion.
“Tulane students are certainly aware of the issues,” she said, “but there is no discussion about activism on campus.” She attributed a portion of this to “the Tulane bubble”.
The Tulane bubble reflects that it's quite possible to take the streetcar back and forth to the French Quarter, jog in Audubon Park, live on campus and never see the rest of New Orleans and it is true that some Tulane students fit this mold. But many other students, especially in Hurricane Katrina's wake, find themselves increasingly involved in the New Orleans recovery effort and it appears that the Tulane bubble is shrinking.
Economics professor Mary Olson felt that the Tulane bubble was largely a myth.
“My students are highly engaged,” she said. “They are aware that others don't have the same advantages they have and they realize that it's not all about them.”
Olson also felt that the Tulane bubble might reflect the idea that Tulane students aren't usually focused on a single effort.
“Tulane students try to be well rounded and know a little bit about everything so perhaps the bubble reflects the idea that they don't usually focus intensely on once specific endeavor,” she said.
Saxer agreed. She said that it was easy for students to get stuck in their own world but felt that most students were educated and could talk intelligently about a variety of issues besides alcohol, partying and the frat scene. Although the Green Club sometimes had trouble attracting students she pointed out that CACTUS, Tulane's community service organization, had substantial support.
Although activism is not popular on campus Tulane could be classified as a community service hotbed.
“CACTUS is probably the biggest student group on campus,” Saxer said.
CACTUS's fall semester day of service, Outreach Tulane, placed more than 1,000 Tulane students in projects across the city and CACTUS sponsors more than 20 different community service initiatives. Even students living firmly within the Tulane bubble will find it hard to ignore Tulane's focus on community service because all students are required to complete at least two service learning classes before they graduate.
All of these conflicting ideas reflect Tulane's reputation as a work hard-party hard school. Students aren't limited to the New Orleans nightlife and the local bar scene. They can still have an intelligent discussion about the presidential election and are passionately interested in rebuilding New Orleans. Tulane is not all about drinking and partying and it is not all about activism and community service. Instead, Tulane offers prospective students a unique combination of both.